Ordinary Graceby Published 26 Mar 2013
From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger comes a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.
When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.
On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, it is a moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.
"Ordinary Grace" Reviews
At the beginning of the summer of 1961, Frank Drum is thirteen years old and living in the small community of New Bremen, Minnesota. It's a summer that will change his life forever, and his story, told from Frank's perspective forty years later, will resonate with readers for a very long time.
Ordinary Grace is a stand-alone from William Kent Krueger, an author best known for his Cork O'Connor mystery series. But this is not a crime novel in the traditional sense, although a number of crimes are committed and investigated during the course of the story. Rather, it's a brilliantly written meditation on the ties of family and community and on the nature of grace, whether granted (or withheld) by God or by frail and fallible human beings in times of crisis and terrible loss when any rational person might well doubt his faith in anyone or anything.
Frank's family includes his father, a Methodist minister and veteran of World War II who still harbors secrets and regrets from the war. Frank's mother has an artistic nature and seems vaguely disappointed in the life that she has found. Additionally, Frank has an older and very talented sister who is headed for Julliard and a younger brother, Jake, who suffers from a disorder that makes him stutter badly.
The book opens with the death of a young boy who is accidentally killed while playing near the railroad tracks and this is the first in a series of tragedies that will befall the people of New Bremen as the summer progresses. Each of the members of Frank's family will react in different ways to the events of the summer, as will the other members of the community.
Krueger has vividly recreated the time and place in which this story is set--an obviously simpler and much more trusting age, and he has populated it with a cast of deftly-drawn characters each of whom is totally believable and engaging. The story is moving and elegiac, and calls to mind both Larry Watson's, Montana 1948 and Norman Macean's A River Runs Through It. Each of these books was also set in a small community in an earlier age. In each case the narrator is also a young man on the cusp of adulthood, and in each book families and the challenges they face are also critically important themes.
With Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger joins a very select group of authors in the brilliance with which he explores these subjects. This is, truly, a wonderful book and no review can really do it justice; it's one that a reader needs to experience for himself of herself. Certainly, though, it's the best book I've read thus far this year and the easiest five stars I've given in a very long time.
The narrator of this story is Frank Drum, a 13-year-old boy who lives in a small Minnesota town with his family: younger brother Jake, who has a severe stutter; older sister Ariel, a talented musician destined for Julliard; father Nathan, an earnest Methodist pastor; and mother Ruth, choir director and superb singer who thought she was marrying a future lawyer and is not happy with her husband's vocation. The Drums are an average family with loving parents and nice children who behave as typical children do.
The book - structured as a mystery - is really about death and faith. As the tale opens it's the very hot summer of 1961 and the town seems to be experiencing more than it's share of death. A schoolmate of the Drum brothers, playing on the railroad tracks, is killed by a train - and soon afterwards the brothers find a dead hobo in almost the same spot. This naturally get the boys thinking about death, and God, and heaven - sentiments apparently reinforced by regularly attending three church services every Sunday where their father preaches, their mother conducts the choir, and their sister plays the organ.
Soon afterwards the Drums experiences a personal tragedy that rocks their world, tests the faith of some family members, and starts to tear the family apart. Some turn to God for comfort, others reject God for allowing such a thing to happen.
As authorities investigate the tragedy, Frank - determined to keep himself informed - snoops around, usually with Jake tagging along. Thus the brothers discover things they shouldn't know, talk too much, and add to the damage themselves.
The book is filled with interesting characters: Gus, a jack-of-all-trades with a drinking problem who served in the army with Nathan; Ariel's boyfriend, a son of the town's wealthiest family who drives a fancy car and has snobby parents; Ariel's music teacher and mentor, a blinded, emotionally damaged man who once jilted Ariel's mother; a deaf, disturbed girl with a passion for gardening; a crude, bigoted cop whose prejudices get in the way of his job; a rough-living Indian man who appears a likely suspect; a family with an abusive father; and more.
The mystery of the book is resolved in a believable fashion and the characters' faith is restored by a small, touching 'miracle'. Overall a good story with a satisfying mystery and a touch of faith that's not overly preachy.
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When the majority of your friends love a book that you didn't do you find yourself second guessing? Searching for that magic that everyone else felt and you missed? I won’t bore you by analyzing this to death [spoilers removed] Worth reading and a solid 3 stars, ordinary rather than extraordinary.
Circa 1960’s told through the eyes of 13 yr old Frank Drum a series of deaths disrupt the lives of everyone in a small town in Minnesota.
It has its strengths The dynamics between Frank, a kid with a bad habit of eavesdropping and his younger brother Jake who struggles with a debilitating stutter - great. Admired his ability to capture time & place. Childhood memories came flooding back – a summer day spent crossing an old trestle bridge, following a river, wandering down forbidden railroad tracks, the smell of creosote, the blasting heat relieved by an unexpected breeze – bliss.
And its weaknesses Tad slow paced & predictable. While the characters are well developed most are stereotypes. The casting of the ‘non-believer’ portrayed as weak & shallow, the minister’s wife –she smokes, she drinks, she’d rather play the piano than cook and clean, she feeds her children spam sandwiches!! In fairness Jake an exception - interesting & well developed, wish he’d been the main protagonist.
Bottom-line I guess it’s focus on ‘The awful grace of God’ combined with loss of innocence brought on by death and bereavement was just a bit too gloomy for me. Probably not helped by my mood (damn these hotflashes) Many people found it uplifting.
If you’re looking for something with a similar flavor (even down to a Methodist minister as the father) suggest you try The Homecoming of Samuel Lake Another character driven coming of age story that’s also getting a lot of buzz. It has the same high drama bordering on tragedy, but it’s lightened with gentle humor.
I adored this book. It stirred so many emotions within me, and for that I have to give it 5 stars. It is a wonderful coming-of-age story, complete with a small-town atmosphere and a mystery surrounding the quiet, unassuming community of New Bremen, Minnesota. We are told on the very first page that “It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms.” But, this book is about much more than just the mystery; it is a story about friendship, brotherhood, family dynamics and bonds, death, faith, and “the awful grace of God”.
Thirteen year old Frank Drum, our narrator, bums around in the summer of 1961 with his younger brother, Jake. Running around the neighborhood and town without parental supervision, playing softball with big groups of friends, eating Sugar Pops, Franco-American spaghetti, and Jello-O salads, drinking root beer in frosty mugs, watching television, reading books and comics, laying awake at night in the stifling heat of a non-air-conditioned bedroom, and overhearing bits and pieces of conversation meant for adult ears only – all these things evoked my own memories of childhood summers where the days stretched long before you and the hours were filled with ideas of fun you devised on your own.
Frank relates this story forty years after the summer the events of this book occurred; so we learn his perspective as an adult looking back at his own reflections of his youth and his brief introduction to manhood once tragedy is thrust into the midst of his family. This family includes his quieter brother, Jake, who suffers from a stutter, his faith-filled, minister father, Nathan, his perhaps disillusioned mother, Ruth, who struggles with her own faith, and his destined for musical greatness sister, Ariel. One of my favorite characters, aside from Frank and Nathan, is the wonderfully-flawed Gus. A friend and keeper of Nathan’s old war secrets, Gus is the person everyone, especially Frank and Jake, can turn to for support and advice.
When dealing with loss, each person will experience a range of different emotions; anger, hope, despair, forgiveness, guilt, and faith are all explored by William Kent Krueger. He does this with such beautiful prose that all his words just resonated within me. Faith can be steadfast, it may be lost, and it may be re-gained. Tragedy can tear a family apart but the strength of love and family bonds can heal our wounds. “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful graces of God.” I highly recommend this book; it will make you think about your own beliefs and even the power of your own “ordinary grace”.
I feel bad for the next book I plan to read, because Ordinary Grace is a very hard act to follow.
This book is very different from the author’s Cork O’Connor mystery series. Mr. Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace from his heart. He has said that writing it was easier than any other novel he has written before, and he feels it is the best piece of writing he has ever done. This is the fourth book in the last year and a half that made me cry, and the second that was written by William Kent Krueger. I wish I had the writing skills to do justice to its review.
This novel takes place during the summer of 1961 and is set in a small rural community in southern Minnesota. The narrator of Ordinary Grace is Frank Drum, who is 13 years old; he tells the story as an adult, 40 years later. The summer of 1961 was a tumultuous one, not only for Frank, his brother Jake, his sister Ariel, his minister father Nathan and frustrated mother Ruth, but for the whole community of New Bremen. Frank and 11-year-old Jake grew up quickly that summer. The events that occurred rocked the foundation of everything they believed in, including their faith, their values, the strength of their family, and the meaning of love. As Mr. Krueger puts it, the story is about “discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.”
Mr. Krueger’s story-telling ability and prose are strikingly unique. His writing imbues serenity, joy, and feelings of being home. It soothes me. It is very difficult for me to put this into words, but it’s the reason why he is by far my favorite author. You will have to experience this book (or any of his books) yourself to see what I mean.
I must comment on the time and setting of Ordinary Grace. I was 10 years old in 1961, so I grew up in this same era. The story brought so much back to me. The way my brother and I would spend the entire summer outside playing with friends or just enjoying each other’s company. There were no computers, iPads or cell phones to distract us from making the most of every moment with whomever we were with. We sat on our porches watching lightening bugs and listening to cicadas, stood in our dead-end street and talked to our neighbors who congregated there, explored the entire town as we rode our bikes everywhere. No ball field was ever empty. Our joys were simple. Childhood does not seem to be like that anymore. This makes me sad.
Ordinary Grace. To give away anything else about the plot would be unfair. I just want to say that the account of that fateful summer in New Bremen, the story of two young teenagers trying to make sense of their world where everything is crashing down at once, will stick with me for a very long time. If you are looking for a powerfully moving 5-star read this summer, find a copy of Ordinary Grace. You will not be disappointed.