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Great Circle
Cover of Great Circle
Great Circle
A novel
“Relentlessly exciting ... My top recommendation for this summer.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK The unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost—Great Circle “soars and dips with dizzying flair ... an expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world” (Boston Globe).


“A masterpiece ... One of the best books I’ve ever read.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Friends and Strangers

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There—after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes—Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.
A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates—and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times—collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.
“Relentlessly exciting ... My top recommendation for this summer.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK The unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost—Great Circle “soars and dips with dizzying flair ... an expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world” (Boston Globe).


“A masterpiece ... One of the best books I’ve ever read.” —J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Friends and Strangers

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There—after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes—Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.
A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates—and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times—collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.
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  • From the cover Little America III, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
    March 4, 1950

    I was born to be a wanderer. I was shaped to the earth like a seabird to a wave. Some birds fly until they die. I have made a promise to myself: My last descent won’t be the tumbling helpless kind but a sharp gannet plunge—a dive with intent, aimed at something deep in the sea.

    I’m about to depart. I will try to pull the circle up from below, bringing the end to meet the beginning. I wish the line were a smooth meridian, a perfect, taut hoop, but our course was distorted by necessity: the indifferent distribution of islands and airfields, the plane’s need for fuel.

    I don’t regret anything, but I will if I let myself. I can think only about the plane, the wind, and the shore, so far away, where land begins again. The weather is improving. We’ve fixed the leak as best we can. I will go soon. I hate the never-ending day. The sun circles me like a vulture. I want a respite of stars.

    Circles are wondrous because they are endless. Anything endless is wondrous. But endlessness is torture, too. I knew the horizon could never be caught but still chased it. What I have done is foolish; I had no choice but to do it.

    It isn’t how I thought it would be, now that the circle is almost closed, the beginning and end held apart by one last fearsome piece of water. I thought I would believe I’d seen the world, but there is too much of the world and too little of life. I thought I would believe I’d completed something, but now I doubt anything can be completed. I thought I would not be afraid. I thought I would become more than I am, but instead I know I am less than I thought.

    No one should ever read this. My life is my one possession.

    And yet, and yet, and yet.


    Los Angeles
    December 2014

    I only knew about Marian Graves because one of my uncle’s girlfriends liked to dump me at the library when I was a kid, and one time I picked up a random book called something like Brave Ladies of the Sky. My parents had gone up in a plane and never come back, and it turned out a decent percentage of the brave ladies had met the same fate. That got my attention. I think I might have been looking for someone to tell me a plane crash wasn’t such a bad way to go—though if anyone actually ever had, I would have thought they were full of shit. Marian’s chapter said she’d been raised by her uncle, and when I read that, I got goose bumps because I was being raised (kind of) by my uncle.

    A nice librarian dug up Marian’s book for me—The Sea, the Sky, etc.—and I pored over it like an astrologist consulting a star chart, hopeful that Marian’s life would somehow explain my own, tell me what to do and how to be. Most of what she wrote went over my head, though I did come away with a vague aspiration to turn my loneliness into adventure. On the first page of my diary, I wrote “I WAS BORN TO BE A WANDERER” in big block letters. Then I didn’t write anything else because how do you follow that up when you’re ten years old and spend all your time either at your uncle’s house in Van Nuys or auditioning for television commercials? After I returned the book, I pretty much forgot about Marian. Almost all of the brave ladies of the sky are forgotten, really. There was the occasional spooky TV special about Marian in the ’80s, and a handful of die-hard Marian enthusiasts are still out there spinning theories on the internet, but she didn’t stick the way Amelia Earhart did. People at least think they know about Amelia Earhart, even though they...
About the Author-
  • MAGGIE SHIPSTEAD is the New York Times best-selling author of the novels Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She is a graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Cassandra Campbell and Alex McKenna's captivating performances of Maggie Shipstead's new novel will divert you from everything else as you follow two women on different quests in separate eras. Marion, in the early twentieth century, devotes her life to flying; years later, Hadley navigates Hollywood's pitfalls as she prepares to play Marion on-screen. Campbell, who narrates most of the book, delivers Shipstead's stunning descriptive prose with a precision that crystalizes its edges, making it sound timeless. Her character portrayals are movingly delivered, vividly evoking personality with subtle shifts in pitch, rhythm, and affect. McKenna's poignant depiction of Hadley, in a chipper yet throaty voice that hints of late nights, perfectly combines the character's endearing mix of enthusiasm, na�vet�, and sangfroid. Together, they transfix. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine
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    Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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Great Circle
A novel
Maggie Shipstead
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