Monday, 13 September 2021

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger - a book review

My rating: 3.5

Frank Drum, the son of a Methodist preacher, is 13 years old  in the summer of 1961.  The Drum family lives in New Bremen (MN), as small town lost in a sea of cornfields on the banks of the  Minnesota River. It's the type of small town where the locals all know each other and any strangers, and those that don't 'fit in', are viewed with suspicion. It's not a very exciting place for a teenager to live in because nothing much happens - until that fateful summer of 1961, when death visits frequently and takes many forms. It is a summer during which Frank Drum is forced to grow up.
Sincerely Loree: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger

The small town setting in rural MN would have been completely alien to me had I not met and married a country boy. My husband grew up amid cornfields, except in his case it was a farming town in northern MO instead of MN and the river close to his hometown is the mighty Mississippi. Over the years we have spent many vacations in this rustic corner of MO, so I've learnt quite a little but about small-town life: the streams and tributaries running off the Mississippi; the muddy banks overgrown with weeds and reeds; the lush greenery; the heat and humidity; the giant mosquitoes; the boredom that a teenager might feel; the longing to get away and the overwhelming urge to meddle in the affairs of grown-ups.

In some ways, reading Ordinary Grace made me feel like I was looking into small snippets of my husband's boyhood, such is the novel's excellent sense of place. Overall I enjoyed this book that got me really immersed in small-town life and which reminded me of the movie Stand By Me. The characters in this book were well written and the developments of Frank's younger brother, Jake, from a stuttering child to the boy who was able to deliver the 'ordinary grace' that bears the title of this book, is beautifully done. Likewise, the tensions between the grown-ups, their regrets, secrets and hidden traumas, provide a solid back-bone that anchor this narrative and provide the (older) reader with characters with which they can identify. Enough was left unsaid to give depth to the narrative and allow for a little bit of mystery. After all, which adult is ever an open book? I'm sure we all have hidden secrets and memories that we keep to ourselves and leaving some times left unsaid made the characters more credible. 

So why didn't I give this book a higher rating? Mainly due to the following reasons:
  • There were many instances when very long sentences were not broken up by any type of punctuation and this made them difficult to be read and understood. Tighter editing would have easily resolved this and it's a pity that it wasn't.
  • Likewise, there were many sentences with a repetitive 'and', for example 'trustworthy and loyal and thrifty and brave and clean and reverent'. These were probably instances of poetic licence but they jarred with me (because I'm finicky like that).
  • The final red herring that was probably meant to confuse the reader for a few more pages actually gave the game away and it would have been better if it was left out.
Ordinary Grace  is a character-driven novel that is very evocative of time and place. It is a beautifully written, wholesome book about the events of a tumultuous summer that stays with you long after you put it down. Perhaps I just need to be a bit kinder when I'm awarding stars.

Trigger warnings: attempted suicide, death (in many forms)

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

There's a sense of finality to September. A hint, even on this sun-scorched island, that summer is coming to an end.  The swifts are back and we've had our first storm. Clouds sail gracefully across the sky like enormous cotton balls and, although the sun's rays feel as warm as a lover's kiss, its power is waning and, with that, comes a sense of relief. The beaches are mostly deserted, lifeguard stands  are empty now and there is, already, a feeling of neglect as seaweed gathers on the waterline and the beach vendors move to more profitable locales. It is too early to think of woollen hats and cold fingers. But the promise is there.

Sincerely Loree

I have been absent from here for a while, making the most of the lazy, hazy days of August but I know it's time to lift my metaphorical socks up (it's still too warm to wear real ones) and look to the next few months. There is much that I want to share in these gentle autumn months: a few book reviews, a bit more about Malta - the unspoilt pretty Malta that I continue to seek - and the little things that make life special and worthwhile. A trip to  Tuscany might take place. The season for apple and cinnamon-scented candles is on the horizon and the thought of cosy evenings and fluffy fleece blankets makes me almost giddy with pleasure. In autumn there is renewal; a season of misty mornings and crispy evenings  that delights my soul. Because, unlike many, I am a creature of rain and storms and the north-west wind, that tosses the sea into a frenzy and howls and shrieks outside my bedroom window, is my best friend. The golden melancholy of autumn and the wildness of winter delight me in ways that make me want to speak in poetry if I could.  It is hard to find the right words in summer, when the air is heavy with so much more than heat and which has perfectly summed up by my dear friend Heather in her poem As Summer Slipped By

Sincerely Loree

As I write this, the sun is golden outside my window. Occasionally it hides behind a cloud, plunging the room into greyness. I miss my boy, away camping with his Boy Scout troop, knowing, deep down, that this is just a foretaste of things to come. Of when he'll fly away, like the swifts, to make his own life. And what then? 'What then?' indeed. Perhaps it's time to think of  things I would like to do and how I would like to grow. Of new challenges to pursue. Perhaps it's time to think of slightly altering my path. There's a whole world out there and I've only experienced a portion of it. A sliver. But there is so much  more. So much muchness ripe for the picking.

Sometimes I can barely sleep, thinking of ways I can transform myself: from the clothes I wear to the books I read and the words I write. I feel the need to almost turn myself inside out. To reach into that secret place, where no one else is allowed, and think. About summer and that sense of an ending. About autumn and the possibility of new beginnings.

Sincerely Loree


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