Monday, August 17, 2020

“Ordinary Grace” by William Kent Krueger

It’s the summer of 1961. Frank Drum is 13. He’s a preacher’s kid; his father is a Methodist minister but also handles the preaching for two other churches. With his parents, his 18-year-old sister Ariel, and his 11-year-old brother Jake, Frank lives in the town of New Bremen, Minnesota. It’s the kind of place where you can still get icy root beers at the drugstore’s soda fountain.

It’s a glorious summer. It also becomes the summer of five deaths. The summer when everything changed, the summer when life became fragile and uncertain.

The first death is a six-year-old boy, who would be called autistic today. He ignored or simply didn’t hear the train coming. The second is a homeless man, who seems to have died of natural causes. But it’s the next three deaths that strain the family and the town to the breaking point and beyond. And Frank and Jake are caught up in all of the deaths, as both observers and sometimes the ones who find the bodies and overhear what the adults are saying. Frank in particular knows and comes to understand far more than he should.
William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, published in 2013, is a coming-of-age novel, but it’s also much more. It’s a mystery, it’s a romance, and it’s a tragedy. It’s a novel with links to the past, to secrets, to first loves, to bullies, and to class structure in small towns. It’s a novel about music and faith and God. And it’s a novel about grace, and just how awful grace can sometimes be.

Krueger has published 18 mystery novels in the Cork O’Connor series, set in the North Woods of Minnesota, and three standalone novels: Ordinary GraceThe Devil’s Bed, and This Tender Land. He’s received a number of awards and recognitions, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Friends of American Writers Prize, and the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His last nine novels were all New York Times bestsellers. Krueger lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Ordinary Grace builds slowly before it suddenly begins to accelerate and becomes almost impossible to put down. The characters are drawn exactly right. The turmoil experienced by a 13-year-old boy seems almost to have come from a lived experience. It’s a moving, sensitive, wonderful atory.


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