Monday, June 24, 2013

Ordinary Grace

A book club member friend recommended Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger a month or so ago. We usually have similar tastes in books, so I was anxious to read it.  Ordinary Grace will go down as one of my most favorite books, if not my most favorite book, of 2013.

Ordinary Grace begins as a simple book narrated forty years after the summer of 1961 by Frank Drum, who in 1961, was a thirteen year old boy.  Frank lived in the small, quaint little town of New Bremen, Minnesota. 

"It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms.  Accident.  Nature.  Suicide.  Murder.  You might think I remember that summer as tragic and I do but not completely so.  My father used to quote the Greek playwright Aeschylus. '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.' "

Frank lived with his father, who is the town's pastor, his mother, who was rather distant, his eighteen year old sister Ariel, who was headed to Juillard in the fall of that year and his eleven year old brother Jake, who suffered from a disabling stutter.  The summer began with the gruesome discovery of a friend of Frank's who was found dead.  It was not clear if the boy was killed or if it was an accident.  And Frank wanted to find out the truth.  But soon after the boy was found, Ariel, Frank's sister, went missing. Frank had seen her leaving the house in the middle of the night several times.  The night she disappeared, she had been out with her boyfriend Karl.  Of course, all suspicion fell on Karl.  But like Ariel, Karl had his own secrets.

There are other characters in the book that play important parts in the book.  I don't want to give away much more of the story, so as not to spoil it for the reader.  I will say that the book invoked To Kill A Mockingbird for me somewhat.  It is told from a child's point of view, the father is a man of wisdom, and the children are innocent until that fateful summer.  The writing is just excellent.

Near the end of the book, Frank's brother, Jake, offered to say grace before a meal being served at the church.  Because of how much Jake suffered with his stuttering, Frank's reaction (said to himself) was :

 "O God, I prayed, just kill me now."
But Frank's mother put her hand on Jake's shoulder and Jake spoke:

"'Heavenly Father, for the blessings of this food and these friends and our families, we thank you.  In Jesus's name, amen.'
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."

The book ends forty years later, when Frank went to the cemetery with his father as they did every year. There is one grave that Frank would like to visit but it was not there.  It was of Warren Redstone, an Indian man who Frank and the town had initially suspected of the crimes. When Frank was in college, he had located and visited Warren:.

"We didn't say much more.  With the exception of the summer in which our lives had converged in a few dramatic moments, we had almost nothing in common.  But when I left, Warren Redstone offered something I've never forgotten.  As I walked away he called to me and when I turned back he said, 'They're never far from us, you know.'
'Who?' I asked.
'The dead.  No more'n a breath.  You let that last one go and you're with them again.'"

This book is so full of beautiful writing:

"In the end maybe that's what the summer was about.  I was no older than Bobby and didn't understand such things then.  I've come four decades since but I'm not sure that even now I fully understand.  I still spend a lot of time thinking about the events of that summer.  About the terrible price of wisdom.  The awful grace of God."

This is a book that I will read again and again over the years.

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