Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace was a good story from the Prologue to the Epilogue. The first sentence of the Prologue is, "All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota."

The second paragraph of the Prologue begins, "It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder. You might think I remember that seems tragic and I do but not completely so."

So the book is the story of that summer. The narrator is Frank, the son of a Methodist preacher in the small town of New Bremen. He has a younger brother Jake and an older sister Ariel. It's set in the year 1961. The way the story is told, or maybe the way it felt as I read it, reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird and also A Prayer for Owen Meany. And Gilead. A small town, several decades ago, and a family going through a seemingly ordinary time, but full of significance.

I loved the turns of phrases in conversations. In an early conversation between Frank and Jake, Jake wants to go along with Frank and Frank says, "Like hell." Jake: "You said hell." So simple, but I can just hear them saying it. And I felt like I was right there, in New Bremen. I could see the roads, the houses, the paths by the river, the woods, the trestle bridge, the river.

This was one of the most skillful uses of foreshadowing I've seen. Sometimes foreshadowing bugs me. It almost seems like a spoiler. Or I'm frustrated and think, "Stop hinting around and get to the story already." But that didn't happen in this book. Those 2 first sentences I quoted above had foreshadowing, right out of the gate. In this case, those hints made me want to keep reading.

At the beginning of this blog entry I thought about writing that the book is compelling, but I didn't want to make it sound like some kind of suspenseful mystery or something. Yet it is compelling. It was a good story, and I wanted to see what would happen. It was one of those books where I stayed up much of one night just to keep reading.

I think the foreshadowing was effective because I was more than content to stay in the story where I was. I didn't want to rush to find out what would happen next because I was happy right where I was, in whatever part of the story I read one of those hints about what was to come.

Frank is a kid who wants to be good but who also is filled with curiosity and eager to know everything there is to know. When his father gets called to situations, Frank always wants to go along. His brother Jake wants to go with Frank anywhere he goes. Sometimes -- often -- Frank's curiosity and wanting to know everything doesn't make him happier. But it definitely makes the story better.

Jake has a stutter. Kids make fun of him for it, and even though Frank sticks up for Jake over and over, Frank, when he wants to rile up Jake, sometimes mocks his stuttering. Because of his stuttering, Jake doesn't speak much, but he sees and understands much, often surprising Frank with insights Frank himself never would have noticed.

You get to know everyone in the family and they all have interesting personalities. Probably one reason the book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird is because the father, Nathan Drum, like Atticus, is a respected, honest, wise man of few words. The characters in the book love him, and you know he loves them.

Ariel, Frank's older sister, is in high school and looking ahead to going to Julliard to develop her musical talent. She plays piano and sings, and has inherited that talent from her mother, Ruth. Beyond the family, there are several other important characters you get to know and love.

I highly recommend this book. Good story, great characters, gives you food for thought, too. Kirkus review said, "A novel that transforms narrator and reader alike," and I would agree.