From age 13, Marian Graves is determined to fly. “Her belief that she would fly saturated her world, presented an appearance of absolute truth,” Maggie Shipstead writes in her epic and exciting novel Great Circle. As a girl in 1920s Montana, Marian’s dream seems nigh impossible, but she bargains and sacrifices her way into procuring precious flying lessons—and so discovers an all-consuming, lifelong love of the sky.
Marian’s insatiable thirst for flight, her desire to transcend societal constraints and see as much of the world as possible, drives Great Circle. Shipstead, bestselling author of Seating Arrangements and Astonish Me, sweeps readers from earth to sky and back again, across 600-plus pages and throughout multiple eras and locales, from Prohibition-era Montana to World War II Europe to present-day Los Angeles.
Maggie Shipstead offers a marvelous pastiche that explores what it takes to live an unusual life.
Tragically, like Amelia Earhart before her, Marian goes missing—in 1950, during her attempt to fly around the world over the North and South poles. Her mysterious disappearance becomes the stuff of legend, another adventurer lost to the skies. Decades later in 2014 Hollywood, Hadley Baxter also yearns to soar. When the opportunity to play Marian in a biopic comes along, Hadley sees it as a chance to reignite her creative spark, dampened by years of squeezing herself into others’ ideas of who she should be.
As the two women’s stories unspool—rife with ambition, desire, triumph and failure—numerous other characters come to the fore with fully realized tales. The book’s level of detail is considerable and impressive, whether Shipstead is explaining airplane mechanics, describing life during wartime or otherwise layering her story over and through history. Her nonlinear storytelling creates a marvelous pastiche of adventure and emotion as she explores what it means (and what it takes) to live an unusual life.
Underpinning it all is a reverence for nature, thrumming in the forests of Montana, the jagged peaks of Alaska and the stupefying ice shelves of the Antarctic. Shipstead’s exhilarating, masterful depictions of Marian’s flights feel like shared experiences that invite readers to contemplate both magnitude and majesty. Great Circle is sure to give even firmly earthbound readers a new appreciation for those who are compelled ever skyward.