Great Circle

Knopf. May 2021. 608p. ISBN 9780525656975. $28.95. F
After being fired from a popular film franchise, owing to a tabloid scandal, young actress Hadley is cast in a film where she’ll play Marian Graves, an aviator who disappeared in 1950 while she was trying to circumnavigate the globe. The bulk of the novel is a chronological account of Marian’s life, interspersed with interludes of Hadley’s journey of self-discovery. Marian experiences many adventures across the first half of the 20th century. She and her twin brother Jamie, who becomes an artist, survive a shipwreck as infants and grow up in Montana. At an early age, Marian develops an ambition to fly; to achieve her goal, she strikes a dangerous bargain with a bootlegger, whom she eventually marries. Later, she becomes a transport pilot in World War II. Along the way, she changes her identity several times and sleeps with (and occasionally falls in love with) both men and women, before her final fateful journey.
VERDICT This new work from the award-winning Shipstead (Seating Arrangements) justifies its length, by its intricately designed plot and by giving its compelling cast of characters room to breathe. As Hadley learns some of Marian’s secrets (the ones that weren’t in the script) readers will wonder how much we can truly know anyone. Highly recommended.
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