An ambitious tale of a once-happy family changed forever by one year in the 1960s when the father’s participation in Cold War intrigue goes tragically awry.
Bestselling MacDonald (the Oprah-picked Fall on Your Knees, 1997) interweaves Cold War tensions and the space race to give her story an intriguing, if at times overreaching, plot, but that also makes for a long and padded read. The McCarthy family is posted back to Canada in 1962 after serving in Germany. The Cold War is at its height, the Cuban Missile Crisis is heating up, as is the race to the moon, and Jack McCarthy has been picked to head an officer’s training school in Ontario. His French-Canadian wife Mimi and their two children, Mike and Madeleine, are happy to be home, but must soon face unexpected challenges. Eight-year-old Madeleine is close to Jack, but she doesn’t tell him or Mimi about her teacher Mr. March, who makes her and other girls stay after school to perform sexually abusive “exercises.” Jack soon has his secrets, too, when an old friend, British diplomat Simon Crawford, asks him to look after a defector, an East German scientist, now in transit to the US. Then Claire, a classmate of Madeleine’s, is brutally raped and murdered, and both Madeleine and Jack face a moral crisis. Rick, the adopted son of a Holocaust survivor, is arrested, and Jack could save him—but that would blow his cover. And Madeleine won’t lie, as requested, about where she saw Rick that day. Rick is sentenced, and a stricken Jack, who never recovers from the guilt, requests a transfer. Madeleine, a lesbian now in her 30s, takes up the narrative. Though a successful comedian, she’s suddenly experiencing panic attacks that lead her to find out who really killed Claire that long-ago afternoon.
Strained at times, but, still, a grand, sweeping saga.