Thursday, August 1, 2013

Krueger Finds Ordinary Grace In 1961

"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." — Aeschylus

Many people who are familiar with the quote first heard it when the late Senator Bobby Kennedy included it in a speech when he was the bearer of the worst possible news in front of an audience of thousands. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis. Kennedy addressed the audience in Indianapolis, speaking from the heart and connecting the experience to his loss after his own brother's assassination.

The same words by this Greek poet work their way into an earlier time with Ordinary Grace: A Novel by William Kent Krueger. Although set in 1961, years before the assassinations, the sentiment shines at the heart of this book that explores the fragility of relationships, pain of loss, and anguish of murder.

Specifically, it reminds us that loss brings us wisdom and experience beyond our years, often against our will. And even when we can never feel good about such an experience, it is often in those moments we are most inclined to see his grace. Or, as Krueger settles on in his book, that some things are beyond our comprehension, including the terrible price that sometimes accompanies wisdom.

Ordinary Grace is the story of a series of tragedies that besiege a small town.

The story centers on 13-year-old Frank Drum and his family. Brought to New Bremen by their Methodist father to serve three small town congregations in southern Minnesota, the Drums maintain a modest household of five. They made enough to eat well when someone is inclined to cook but not well off enough to afford air conditioning, a comfort that distinguished the rich around the Flats.

As the minister's family with three services scheduled every Sunday, their lives often revolved around the church. His beautiful and artistically-inclined mother was well known for leading the choir despite feeling trapped into a life different from the one she wanted.

His older sister, despite her harelip, was both attractive and an accomplished pianist who had just graduated high school and had plans to attend Julliard. His brother, 11-year-old Jake, is a boy who is wise beyond his years but most people avoid him because of his stutter.

Of course, Sunday services are not the only obligation of a minister. They are charged with counseling those in need and consoling those who grieve. It was the latter, not the former, that marked the summer of 1961 as something other than ordinary. The death of Bobby Cole hung heavy on them all.

It also foreshadowed the kind of summer it would be, as Drum finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal. By the end of it, he will be exposed not to one death alongside the railroad tracks his parents have forbidden him and his brother to visit, but four of them — a number that seems much too high to be a coincidence given the number of people with motive and opportunity.

A couple of quick graphs about author William Kent Krueger. 

In hoping to move beyond the particular kind of story that readers are accustomed to in his series of mysteries, author Krueger mines the richness of his own youth growing up in a small Minnesota town. The looser structure opened up something new in his writing, a spiritual journey that had felt like it came from outside of himself for the first time in his career.

Krueger himself was born the third of four children in 1950 in Torrington, Wyoming. His parents convinced them that they had gypsy blood and lived in eleven different houses in six different states by the time he graduated from high school. After college, he logged a bit of timber, worked a lot of construction, published a few magazine articles, and eventually began writing in earnest.

Ordinary Grace By William Kent Krueger Lifts Up 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The pitch-perfect novel brings together Krueger's experience as mystery writer with his literary prowess in telling a coming-of-age story from the point of view of a boy who is given too many crosses to bear. It's poignant, readable, and filled with broken characters whom he somehow manages to make whole by piecing them together in order to find a hopeful but painful end.

You can find Ordinary Grace: A Novel by William Kent Krueger on Amazon. The book is also available from Barnes & Noble and can be downloaded for iBooks. The audiobook proves William Kent Krueger's feeling — that it was meant to be read out loud — true. Rich Orlow brings the right stuff as narrator.
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