Updated: Sep 15, 2020
A poignant, thought-provoking and moving coming-of-age story steeped in mystery and suspense.
Frank Drum was thirteen years old in the Summer of 1961. That was the summer that several people died in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota. The first death was Bobby Cole, a simple boy with glasses who was killed on the railroad tracks near the Minnesota River on the outskirts of town. Bobby was the same age as Frank and they knew each other. Was Bobby’s death an accident or something evil? This is the first in a series of deaths that summer, each with a different cause; accident, nature, suicide and murder. Each death hammered away at Frank’s faith, but one inparticular hit very close to home.
Frank shares a bedroom with Jake, his eleven year old, younger brother. The two go just about everywhere together. Jake is often bullied in school because he stutters whenever talking in public. Frank and Jake also have an older sister, Ariel who is a piano prodigy and will soon be headed off to college at Juilliard. The Drum family is headed by their parents Nathan, a Methodist minister and Ruth, who manages the music ministry at the church, but has never relished the role of being a minister’s wife.
“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 grace of God.”
ORDINARY GRACE is poignant, thoughtful and moving coming-of-age story steeped in suspense and mystery. It is beautifully written and brilliantly plotted with well-developed engaging characters that propel this story of family and community. The story is told from Frank’s perspective of the events some forty years later.
My favorite moment in the book was when young Jake rose up to say a prayer before a meal in front of a large gathering of people. It was a beautiful and poignant moment in time, one that will not soon be forgotten.
Another memorable and thought-provoking moment in the book was the inclusion of the above quote from Aeschylus referencing the “awful grace of God.” That phase stopped me in my tracks and I had to reread the quote several times. Frank’s father tells his son “I don’t think it is meant in a bad way. I think it means beyond our understanding.” I turned to the dictionary to discover awful doesn’t just mean extremely disagreeable, as it is most often used. But awful can also mean inspiring awe or filled with awe. It was only after reviewing these later definitions that I gain some slight insight into the phrase. But what did Aeschylus mean? I loved how this phase, which was also used by Robert Kennedy referring to his own grief at the 1963 murder of his brother John F. Kennedy, fit so well into the story of ORDINARY GRACE. The quote was later engraved on the headstone of Robert Kennedy.
Author WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER deftly captures a coming-of-age story during a summer of unspeakable loss. Krueger is a NYT bestselling author and his work has received numerous awards. He writes a mystery series set in the north woods of Minnesota, know as the Cork O’Conner series. His newest book is a fabulous stand-alone novel, published in September 2019, titled This Tender Land. Both Ordinary Grace and This Tender Land are must reads.
“The dead are never far from us. They are in our hearts, and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.”
Publisher Recorded Books
Published March 26, 2013
Narrated Rich Orlow