Our May Sip & Read Book Club Pick is Maggie Shipstead's 'Great Circle'

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Ashley Leath
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Photo credit: Victor Maze
Photo credit: Victor Maze


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Welcome to the VERANDA Sip & Read Book Club! Each month, we dive in to a book and offer exclusive conversations with the authors behind each tale over on Instagram, along with a perfectly matched cocktail. This month's pick is Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle, the expansive story of a female pilot in Prohibition Montana and the Hollywood starlet who agrees to play her in a biopic of her life a century later. Get caught up on our past book club selections here.

Maggie Shipstead’s third novel, Great Circle, begins with a goodbye. Marian Graves, a female pilot in 1950, writes in her logbook that her “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.” In other words, Marian is going to die. There’s a fuel leak, we learn, in her plane, the Peregrine. The great circle Marian has meant to complete, flying from the North Pole to the South, will not be fulfilled.

Marian’s legacy follows her death like a dogged shadow, revived in her logbook after it is found and published years later and again in a subsequent biography and conspiracy theories and tales of the brave women who took to flight during a time when women were thought not to be able to do much (nor were they welcomed) beyond the domestic.

Fast forward to 2014, and Hollywood’s “it” girl of the moment, Hadley Baxter, is tired of her life. Stardom made for a confining childhood, but young Hadley had stumbled upon Marian’s logbook one day at the library and discovered a kindred spirit. Like Marian, Hadley’s parents both died while she was young, orphaning her to the care of an uncle, a producer and director. Hadley did what any child of such an uncle would do and plummeted into television. “I was probably more of an impetuous little brat than Marian,” Hadley says. “The world was my oyster, and freedom was my mignonette.”

But tastes change, and now Hadley is a firecracker trapped in a cinched paper bag, popping and fizzling and desperate for air. Marian’s story is a forgotten relic of childhood when Hadley sabotages her cushy multi-film franchise role and retreats to her mansion to float in the pool and contemplate what she should do with herself. Then she’s offered a saving grace: the role of Marian Graves in a new biopic. The memory of her connection to Marian’s story percolates. It feels serendipitous, a chance to prove something to her detractors—and more importantly, to herself.

Woven into Hadley’s exploration of her new role is the actual story of Marian and her childhood with her twin brother and uncle in a gabled Queen Anne house in Missoula, Montana, in the 1920s. One day a pair of pilots whoosh into town, and Marian is immediately transfixed. The sky sings of freedom, and Marian is desperate for a hunk of metal and parts of her own to buoy her into the clouds. Like Hadley, Marian will align herself with people and circumstances that grant her freedom—inside a gilded cage.

Hopscotching between Marian’s past and Hadley’s present, Shipstead charts for us the circuitous routes we take to break free of the forces—societal, emotional, physical—that keep us rooted in place. We travel from rural Montana to Seattle and Vancouver, Hawaii and L.A. to World War II England; pass historical figures like Charles Lindburgh and Amelia Earhart; and become invested in a wide range of deftly drawn characters, each of whom tug at the heart and push the scope of the story ever farther.

Our lives, Shipstead seems to be saying, are composed of an infinite number of great circles. We are all memories of our intersections, our paths arcing to and from one another as we cross time and space. Shipstead has woven together past and present, desire and wanderlust, into an expansive, unforgettable tour de force.

Tune in to Veranda's Instagram as Shipstead answers your questions and chats with us live about Great Circle on May 20 at 2 p.m. EST.

VERANDA SIP & READ BOOK CLUB FOR MAY 2021

Selection: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (available via local booksellers, Amazon, or Bookshop)
Start reading with us May 1.
Send Shipstead your questions via VERANDA's Instagram Stories.
Tune in to Instagram as Shipstead answers your questions and chats live about Great Circle on May 20 at

May 20

p.m. EST.

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