Skip to main content

Great Circle


Great Circle

“If you were to put a blade through any sphere and divide it into two perfect halves, the circumference of the cut side of each half would be a great circle: that is, the largest circle that can be drawn on a sphere…. Points directly opposite each other, like the North and South Poles, are intersected by an infinite number of great circles.”

So we are taught at the beginning of Maggie Shipstead’s adventurous new novel, GREAT CIRCLE, before the author of the wonderful SEATING ARRANGEMENTS makes a full-fledged dive into the crazy life of a bold aviatrix and the pop culture star who plays her in a movie. It’s a super-packed stack of exceptional tales and two magnificent females.

"GREAT CIRCLE is a wonderfully immersive adventure that is made for both the beach vacation and the thoughtful deep read."

In 1914, a set of twins are rescued from a sinking ocean liner. Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their uncle in Missoula, Montana. They befriend the local prostitute’s son and romp about nature until Marian encounters a couple of biplane pilots and decides that she must dedicate herself to a life amidst the clouds. She becomes an avid and outstanding aviatrix and discovers an expert patron in a local bootlegger. At the age of 14, she agrees to a deal that will haunt her for the rest of her life. However, it will ensure that she will circumnavigate the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Marian’s exploits are being turned into a film starring Hadley Baxter, who is trying to throw off her cable fame by shooting for bigger stars (she recently almost starred in a salacious and erotic thriller that seems to have made her even more famous than ever before, thanks to an on-set romantic foible that got her fired). Focusing on Marian’s unfortunate adventures in Antarctica, Hadley hopes that the destiny of this fabulous woman will be not only the vehicle to show the world how much she has grown as an actress, but a personal experience that will inspire her to see the world herself. So these two ladies, searching for freedom and the ability to define themselves as brave explorers, create a Great Circle of all women who have spent generation after generation looking for the same.

Marian and Hadley possess a high intelligence and a self-awareness that you only find in well-written novels about women by women. We are allowed inside their thought processes as they agree to situations that are both dangerous and devilish. But it is the small ways that Shipstead builds bridges between their lives that keep the book’s pace sharp and quick.

Their childhood similarities, the multitude of horrors they must endure if only to have the chance to try to make their lives more of what they really want them to be, their love lives and their interior desires bring these women so close that they almost could be mirror images of each other. Of course, they live in times that sharply contrast with each other, whether it be the nature of money, celebrity or the technology used to push their fame to greater heights. The feminist foundation to their endeavors creates a precarious and politicized atmosphere in both their timelines, and we can’t help but wonder how things have not changed all that much for women between those generations.

This is a high-flying tall tale that is grounded in real emotional strength and the gutsy pride of bold women. How the world treats them is familiar, yet they have innovative ways of defeating the limiting expectations of their respective zeitgeists. GREAT CIRCLE is a wonderfully immersive adventure that is made for both the beach vacation and the thoughtful deep read. It is a fast and furious look at two engaging characters, replete with original voices and unique personalities.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on May 7, 2021

Great Circle
by Maggie Shipstead

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1984897705
  • ISBN-13: 9781984897701