Monday, April 1, 2013

Ordinary Grace

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.

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