Once in a blue moon a book drops down on your desk that demands to be read. It isn't by any author you have ever heard of in the past, and there have been no rave reviews that prompt you to give it a try. There is just something about the cover and the short overview of the book that piques your interest. You pick it up and read the first page, and then the second, and you are hooked. Such a book is Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.
The story takes place in Minnesota in the early 1960's. It is summertime and the description of the sunshiny days is so intense you could have been reading a story set in Georgia. There are no omens of a forthcoming bad winter, only one sun filled day following another for the length of the tale. In this summer of beautiful days 13-year-old Frank Drum lives one horrific experience after another.
It is a summer of three deaths. One is a young boy who dies on the railroad tracks hit by a speeding train. The second is an itinerant who may or may not have had a heart attack. The third is a young woman just about to embark on the adult period of her life and she is full of promise and hope. Frankie is impacted in some way by all three of these deaths.
The people most important in his life are the members of his family. This means his father who is a local minister. His mother is the choir director and a rebel in some ways against the strict confines of the church. His sister Ariel is a musician and through her talent her mother lives vicariously. Then there is Frank's younger brother Jake, a stutterer who observes all but says little. He is wise beyond his 11 years but Frankie is still very protective of him.
The plot of this book deals with life and death issues and deals with them compassionately. It shows that bad things do happen to good people and there is no rhyme or reason for them. People search for answers but in truth it all comes down to one's ability to go forward. God's grace allows us to question, to grieve and to heal. That is the lesson Frank learns and it is the hallmark of the story.
Krueger is a gentle writer. He sees beauty in just about all things. This is why his descriptions are so idyllic and the overall effect of most of the characters in the books is goodness. All of those described are flawed but they have a basic humanity that rests inside them and reaches forward to help.
It seems improbable you can read Ordinary Gracewithout feeling some of this beauty. There are lessons to be learned inside its pages but it is not a preachy story in any sense. It is simply a story of people faced with bad events, rising above them to carry on with the help of God's grace.
This is a book that makes the reader feel better just by having been exposed to the delights of the story. It will stay with you for quite some time and you will always remember it with a smile.
Ordinary Grace is published by Atria. It contains 320 pages and sells for $16.99.
Jackie K Cooper