Book Talk: Ordinary Grace

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)

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Good review, reading a book with solid character development, I find, is always one no matter what else, is a rewarding read. Thank you.

The use of and! Glad you bring that up.
Yes, that can become uncomfortable to read. I recently began eliminating ands, find a smoother way to write.

Debbie Nolan said...

Loree this sounds like a book I would enjoy. I am always glad to know the book continues to stay with one long after it is read. To me that is what I am looking for in a good novel whether fiction or non. Hope you are enjoying cooler days. Take care friend. Hugs!

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