As the summer of 1961 begins in New Bremen, Minnesota, 13-year-old Frank Drum and his younger brother Jake are about to attend the funeral of their young friend, Bobby Cole, who was killed while playing on the railroad tracks. Bobby Cole’s death is the first of a series of deaths that fateful summer which Frank recounts for us some 40 years later.
Frank and Jake are the sons of Nathan Drum, an Army veteran who changed his life course after the war and became a Methodist minister rather than a lawyer. Their mother Ruth sings like an angel and gave up her musical career to be the wife of a successful lawyer, but not the wife of a pastor. Ariel, their musically gifted 18-year-old sister, is the golden child of her parents. Their father’s Army buddy Gus is also a fixture in the family.
As our hearts break over the incidents of death by accident, natural causes, murder, suicide, and the loss of Frank and Jake’s innocence, we meet a host of complex characters. Among them are a blind musician and his mentally disturbed sister, Ariel’s boyfriend who is the son of the town’s most prominent family, an old Indian, a bully, a cop with loose lips, and many others who may not be central to the story but serve as the backdrop to life in a small town.
Highly skilled veteran facilitator, Sally Melton, started the discussion with a challenge. She asked the group to list as many characters in the story as they could recall without consulting the book. Members were quite surprised to discover the plethora of personalities. As we delved into the importance of their roles in the story, we were enamored with the author’s portraits of the players and how their roles were integral in picturing this small town.
The members were somewhat divided on the use of the prologue. Some felt they couldn’t absorb the story because they were always waiting for the next death while others thought it heightened the mystery.
The prologue quoted Greek playwright Aeschylus. The quote contained the phrase “the awful grace of God.” That phrase raised a number of questions. What was the author trying to convey by using that quote? Was the phrase in juxtaposition to the title “Ordinary Grace?” Did members think God’s grace could be awful? Were there other graces present in the story? Attempting to answer these questions elicited an array of thought-provoking ideas.
However, the group was not at odds over the use of an epilogue and was pleased the author chose to let us know how Frank, Jake, their family, and the town coped after that sad summer. Of the 80 members present, only one member disliked the book. The others had the highest praise for the story and its beautiful, picturesque prose.
About the Author
William Kent Krueger was born in 1950 in Wyoming. His father was a high school English teacher and instilled in Krueger his love of literature and writing. He attended Stanford University for only one year. He lost his scholarship after protesting Stanford’s complicity in weapons production during the Vietnam War. Krueger fell in love with Minnesota as soon as he arrived, and Minnesota locales feature prominently in his multiple award-winning Cork O’Connor mystery series, which totals 14 books with more due in the next three years. “Ordinary Grace” received the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Krueger resides in St. Paul with his wife Diane, a retired attorney, and they are the parents of two children.
Learn more about the Book Club: Club chairwoman Kathy Porter can be contacted at 352.259.8196 or email@example.com.