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Wonder woman: Ann-Marie MacDonald is an actor, director, playwright, TV host, mom, and Oprah-anointed novelist. Are you ready for her new book?

Bad things happen to little girls in Ann-Marie MacDonald's novels. Abuse is a core narrative," says the Canadian author during an phone interview from New Brunswick. "And if you think of it as a genre, them is always another story to tell." MacDonald's award-winning debut, Fall on Your Knees, was a family saga that dealt with incest--well enough to be selected for Oprah's Book Club and to become an international best-seller.

MacDonald's dark, morally complex second novel, The Way the Crow Flies, is set on a Canadian air force base in the Cold War years. Eight-year-old Madeleine McCarthy is at the mercy of her fourth-grade teacher, Mr. March, mad his unsavory after-school "exercises" with his female pupils. Madeleine's handsome military dad has secrets of his own, and the hidden worlds of father and daughter collide when a classmate of Madeleine's is murdered in the nearby woods.

"The girls in The Way the Crow Flies are veterans, like their fathers. It's a war story," MacDonald says. In Fall on Your Knees, "the bodies are buried. In this book I set out to create a story that unfolded in the Kodak light of day."

A Kodak snapshot was one of the first images that came to MacDonald, who tends to spin out her stories from a central image or two that arise unexplained in her mind.

In this case, she saw a little girl lying on the ground. "It took me a long time to figure out what happened to her; I was shocked. I was appalled."

Another big challenge was living down the international success of Fall on Your Knees. "It upped the ante," she says mildly.

MacDonald hasn't abandoned her roots as an actress (Better Than Chocolate; I've Heard the Mermaids Singing) and playwright, of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet. Defying every stereotype of the cave-dwelling novelist, she lives in Toronto with her partner and baby, hosts a Canadian television show on documentaries, and during the 6 1/2 years it took to compose her new novel, managed to write mid act in a musical on the side.

"Fiction is such a long, long road that I need to pull back from it and let things percolate," she explains. "They're all forms of storytelling. Each feeds the other. Being onstage reminds me of the immediacy of the audience."

The shifting points of view and subtle emotional shading of The Way the Crow Flies may also owe something to MacDonald's background as an actor: "Once you inhabit a point of view, you make that character quite powerful," she points out. For that reason, MacDonald says, she threw out a few of the pages she'd written from the viewpoint of the repulsive Mr. March.

On the other hand, she is not above living vicariously through her creations. In the last quarter of the novel, set in the 1980s, Madeleine is an out and proud actress, like MacDonald herself. But she's also made her heroine into one of the few things she hasn't been--a stand-up comic. Why hasn't she tried stand-up? MacDonald laughs: "I never had the guts!"

Marler writes for the New York Observer and the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
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Title Annotation:books
Author:Marler, Regina
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Sep 16, 2003
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