In Great Circle: A Novel, author Maggie Shipstead takes us into the epic life of a female aviator, Marian Graves. Rescued from a sinking ship as an infant with her twin brother, Jamie, Marian grows up in Montana, raised by an uncle who had little interest in the two children. While still a teenager, Marian discovers a passion for planes…and will do anything to learn to fly.
Several decades after Marian disappears on a “great circle” flight to both the north and south pole, actress Hadley Baxter is playing Marian in a movie. Hadley is a successful but disgraced actress who takes the role initially to try to redeem herself in Hollywood. The story weaves back and forth between Marian’s life and Hadley’s.
Two things really stood out to me when reading this novel. First, it’s too easy to misinterpret or minimize the complexity of someone’s life when observing it from the outside. After Marian’s disappearance, writers tried to fill in the blanks, creating myth and misinformation. Hadley has to deal with tabloid culture.
Second, I was struck by how a life can be altered by one small action or shift. If Marian hadn’t been rescued as a newborn, she would never have existed. It was as if every aspect of her life led her to flight, but one less twist or turn would have given her a very different experience.
Shipstead’s command of research and her ability to weave it into a story are astounding. Readers will learn a lot about the history of flight and the role of women that is often under-reported.
Initially I had some trouble getting into the story. There’s a fair amount of set-up that may come across as random. Hang in there. It will all make sense in the end. I also struggled a bit with Marian’s precociousness, but I consider this a minor criticism, as the era of The Great Depression forced people to grow up fast.
I would highly recommend Great Circle to anyone who loves stories about tenacious women. There’s a lot here about families, friendships, and love here, too.
Great Circle‘s release date is May 4, 2021. NOTE: I received a free copy of this novel via NetGalley in return for an unbiased review.
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