Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Ordinary Grace

Summary: “That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, 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 grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder. 

Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family— which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother— he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years. 

Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly 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. -- Atria

I had never read a novel by William Kent Krueger... until now. Naturally, I have head some pretty amazing things about Mr. Krueger, and especially his latest novel ORDINARY GRACE, so I decided it was high time to see what all the fuss was about. Well, let me just tell you that I absolutely get it. ORDINARY GRACE was a fantastic literary mystery and I devoured it in just a few hours.

ORDINARY GRACE takes place in a small town in Minnesota in 1961 in a time when our entire country seemed to be hopeful with a new young president. For 13 year old Frankie Drum, though, it was a summer of loss. It began with an "accidental" death of a young boy and just continued to get worse from there with a variety of losses. When tragedy hits Frankie's own family, Frankie and his younger brother are forced to grow up way too fast. They discover family secrets and lies, and they even see the extent people will go to protect themselves.

I was looking forward to sitting down with ORDINARY GRACE, but I had no idea just how much I'd love this book. I was expecting a tight mystery and that kept me guessing, but I wasn't expecting such a rich story. While it was definitely full of mysteries (including a few that weren't entirely resolved), it also had some complex character development and a remarkably memorable narrator. In addition, it explored the effects of a tragedy on a family (as well as a small town.) I think it was for these reasons that the novel was so special to me.

Since this is a Mystery Mondays post, I will start with the mystery aspect of the story. Suffice it to say that Mr. Krueger created an intriguing mystery and I loved figuring it out. There were many clues and even a red herring or two to throw off the reader; however, I think most readers will be able to figure out the culprit by the end of the novel. But honestly, the mysteries were almost secondary to the rest of the story!

The real beauty of this novel was how well-written it was. Mr. Krueger just did so many things so well. For instance, the story was narrated about 40 years after the fact by a middle-aged Frankie looking back at that summer of 1961. Personally, I loved this choice of narrator because I always appreciate a good coming-of-age story, and I think Frankie grew up a tremendous amount that summer. In addition, I liked how the author managed to capture the essence of a 13 year old boy, but at the same time, because the story is a flashback, could integrate an adult's wisdom and hindsight into the story.

Another wonderful thing that Mr. Krueger did was create a very solid setting. Not only did he describe perfectly a small river town in Minnesota, and that includes the attitudes and actions of the people who lived there, but he also brought to life the look and feel of the early 1960s. I wasn't even born during this time, but I've read enough to know that there was a feeling of hope and optimism in our county at that time along with some sort of innocence. Of course, Frankie (and the rest of his family and the town) lost much of their innocence that summer when they were forced to cope with so much.

I also appreciated the character development in the story. Frankie was terrific and so entertaining, but I also loved his younger brother who, despite his stutter, had such a way about him. While he was extremely quiet, he was so insightful and wise. In addition, Frankie's father was an intriguing character. Once a young man training to be a lawyer, he had a calling to be a Methodist minister after his experiences in the war. Through all of the tragedy, his strength and faith made him extremely interesting to me. Finally, I was fascinated by Frankie's mother. She fell in love with her husband prior to his decision to be a minister, and she didn't quite fit the role of a minister's wife nor did she share her husband's faith. I was extremely impressed with how real all of these characters were, and I thought the portrayal of how they were affected by tragedy was extremely well done.

I am a huge fan of literary mysteries, and I think it just might be my new favorite genre. I love it when a novel can get under my skin and keep popping in my thoughts even after I've read the last page. And that's exactly what happened with ORDINARY GRACE. As a result, I'm pretty sure that this novel would make an excellent discussion book. Some of the themes you might want to explore include grief, secrets, family, lies, betrayal, adultery, the past, forgiveness, faith, and redemption. Truly, this novel encompasses so many universal themes about individuals and families, and I'm pretty sure that there is plenty to discuss.

Overall, I loved ORDINARY GRACE and I highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.  


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I read one of his books and liked it so I should really try this one too!

Beth Hoffman said...

Just a few days ago I put this book on my list. Your review is excellent, Julie. Now I want to read this book even more!

bermudaonion said...

I am almost through with this book and hate for it to end. I love Frank's voice. I have a feeling this book will become a classic.

Beth F said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth F said...

I didn't read your review ... yet. I LOVE WKK. He is such an amazing writer--very literary but still very accessible. His books are so well plotted. I was saving Ordinary Grace for after taxes, so it's next on my list!

Michelle said...

I do love a great mystery, but somehow Krueger bypassed my radar. Based on your review, it sounds like something I need to remedy as soon as possible. Thanks!

Stacie said...

I am waiting for it to arrive from amazon. He is coming to our area and I cant wait to visit with him again. He was such a delight a few years ago. His book will be pushed to the top of my list as soon as it comes.

Beth Hoffman said...

I had to stop back and tell you that I downloaded this book last night and absolutely love it!

techeditor said...

I just read this.

William Kent Krueger may have outdone himself with ORDINARY GRACE. I've read a few other popular novels by this author,and ORDINARY GRACE is by far the best.

Although coming-of-age stories bore me, ORDINARY GRACE does not come across as a coming-of-age story. This is a story told by a 53-year-old man. He writes as an adult recalling what happened one summer to his family and others in his small community when one murder after another took place.

But ORDINARY GRACE mainly observes the narrator's father and brother, so full of ordinary grace.

HeatherAnne said...

I liked Ordinary Grace, but I didn't love it. I enjoyed reading a review from someone who did love it. It gave me a new perspective on the book. Thanks!