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ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

Ordinary Grace is a wonderful, brilliant novel.  I’ve written about William Kent Krueger’s earlier book, Trickster’s Point, and Ordinary Grace surpasses even that excellent one with its beauty and understanding of family and human dynamics.

The book’s narrator, Frank Drum, is thirteen during the summer of 1961.   Frank’s father is a Methodist minister in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota, a man of God in the best sense.  Frank’s mother conducts the choir in New Bremen and in two other small churches where her husband is the clergyman.  Although she has a beautiful voice and had hoped for a professional career, she is now resigned, but not happily, to living the life of a minister’s wife.

Frank’s eighteen-year-old sister Ariel is a talented pianist and composer who has been accepted to the Julliard School of Music, her lifelong dream.  But now, for some unstated reason, she tells her family she doesn’t want to go, that she would rather stay home and go to the local college and study music.

Frank’s younger brother is Jake, eleven years old.  Jake has a terrible stutter, making him the object of teasing and bullying to the point where he almost never speaks in public or in school.  At home his stutter disappears, but outside that safe environment he becomes almost mute.

Ordinary Grace opens with two deaths in a matter of hours.  The first is that of Bobby Cole, a young developmentally challenged boy who was killed on the town’s railroad trestle.  Did he simply not hear the train coming, or did something more sinister happen?  The next day Frank and Jake find the body of an itinerant man in nearly the same place.  That’s a lot of death for such a small town, but there are more deaths to come.

There’s a great deal of tension in New Bremen.  The relationship between Ruth and Nathan Drum is not an easy one, and she is unable or unwilling to understand the importance of God in her husband’s life, how he can keep his faith no matter what tragedies befall the town or the family.

There is an uneasy relationship between Ruth and her daughter’s piano teacher, Emil Brandt.  Ruth and Emil had been engaged very briefly years earlier, but he abandoned her and fled to New York City to pursue his career.  Now he’s returned home, badly scarred and blinded in a fire, his house kept by his sister Lise.  Lise is autistic, and her devotion to her brother is extreme.

But ordinary grace is seen throughout the book, especially in the person of Nathan Drum.  As a clergyman he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers when bad things happen to good people, but his faith in God remains secure. And through his goodness his family and his town manage to survive.

William Kent Krueger has written another outstanding novel, a coming-of-age story that will resonate with the reader long after the last page is read.  His characters are beautifully drawn, and life in a small town in the mid-twentieth century is detailed and accurate.

You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

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