In Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger leaves behind his Cork O'Connor series to give us a stunning stand-alone coming of age novel. Krueger has said he thinks this is his best work, and I don't disagree.
Set in New Bremen Minnesota in the summer of 1961, the narrator Frank Drum reflects back from 40 years' perspective about events and how he reacted to them at the age of 12-13, how he helped his 9 year old brother Jake make sense of the adult happenings in their lives, and how their father, a war veteran turned preacher, held the family together through very traumatic events. There were murders, missing persons (including their 18 year old sister), an emotionally absent mother, and mysterious happenings.
The book opens with the gruesome death of a 13 year old boy who is run over by a train. Was it an accident? A suicide? A murder? Shortly after, Frank and his brother discover the body of an "itinerant". Yes there's a murder mystery to be solved, but the book is so much more. Secret keeping is a central theme. The negative impacts on the lives of those who keep secrets, even when the intentions may be good, are examined in a compassionate retrospective as Frank looks back on the events of that summer, his feelings of guilt, his youthful inability to deal with everything happening, and his relations with his father, his mother and his brother.
While the characters are all believable and well drawn, it is the setting both in time and place that is one of the stars of this remarkable novel. The author places the reader squarely in a small town in 1961, from the neighborhood barber shop where men go to be men and catch up on gossip, to the local drugstore/soda fountain, the TV dinners in front of black and white tvs, the bicycles, foot travel, phone firmly hooked to the wall (and only one phone per household), and houses without air conditioning,we are transported to a softer, kinder time, even with the murders festering on the edges.
The reader is reluctant to end the book. The times, the story and the characters are destined to become engraved in the reader's memory. The title is not correct - - - - this book is in no way Ordinary. It will certainly be on several Best of the Year lists for 2013.
Title: Ordinary Grace
Author: William Kent Krueger
Publisher: Atria Books (2013), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: secret keeping, murder, coming of age
Setting: New Bremen Minnesota
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now? I like the author.