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Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary Grace

by William Kent Krueger

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1,0761077,760 (4.16)102
  1. 30
    Montana 1948 by Larry Watson (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: These lyrical, meditative novels brim with bittersweet nostalgia in their evocatively detailed portraits of small American towns in the mid-20th century. Both focus on sensitive teen protagonists struggling to understand shocking tragedies and complex family drama.… (more)
  2. 00
    Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (bjappleg8)
    bjappleg8: Similar story of a father's faith through family trials and tribulations as seen through a young boy's eyes.
  3. 00
    The Round House by Louise Erdrich (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: Similar coming of age story. Similar issues, and very good writing in both books.

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“For thirteen –year old Frank Drum, the preacher’s son, it was a grim summer in 1961 in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” A coming of age story set among an unsettling Minnesota background.

Frank is growing up scrambling for meaning and full of confusion and fear. In the midst of that, a lot of frightening things happen that leave him in a constant state of apprehension. There are so many troubled characters in this book:

Jake is Frank’s younger brother. Jake is often quiet, especially outside of his home because he has a bad stutter: “I don’t like to talk to people because I’m afraid I’ll stutter and they’ll make fun of me. I feel like a freak sometimes.” There is a lot more to Jake than his stutter. He also has a way of understanding things and seeing things others don’t notice.

Ariel is Frank and Jake’s older sister. Ariel is her parents golden child. Everyone believes she is destined for greatness. She is her mother’s favorite. Ariel is hope for mother’s unfulfilled longings. Jake and Frank adore her. She is their confidante, conspirator, defender, encourager, and supporter. But is she as innocent as everyone thinks? Frank often catches her sneaking out late at night and he knows something isn’t quite right.

Their father, Nathan Drum, is a preacher. He is also a war vet and is clearly troubled by his past. There are several other war vets in the book as well. Gus- his father’s friend, a drunk, who lives in the basement of the church. Nathan often says that he owes Gus his life, but we never find out why.

“There are a lot of men left troubled by the war. Every man handles in a different way the damage war did to him. Some men seem to have put their wars behind them easily enough.”

“Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out.”

“The truth is when you kill a man it doesn’t matter if he’s your enemy and if he’s trying to kill you. That moment of his death will eat at you for the rest of your life. It’ll dig into bones so deep inside you that not even the hand of God is going to be able to pull it out, I don’t care how much you pray.”

Emile (Ariel’s piano instructor and Mrs. Drum’s dear friend) returned from World War II blind and disfigured and wanting to feed in isolation on the meat of his bitterness. He lives with his sister Lise who is also a bit of a recluse. Lise is mentally retarded and has no future that anyone could see. They are both two damaged souls that the rest of the family has pretty much abandoned.

The preacher’s wife and mother to Frank, Jake and Ariel is less than delighted with her life as a minister’s wife. She has a fondness for martinis and as things progress that summer, she becomes angrier and angrier at her husband for putting God before his family.

I had great expectations for this book and was a little disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to them. It was a little slow going at first, but once things start happening, I had just had to know how they ended. I hate that I had figured the book out before it ended, but not everyone will. A literary mystery that isn’t that thrilling, but will really get to the heart of things.

“What is happiness? In my experience, it’s only a moment’s pause here and there on what is otherwise a long and difficult road. No one can be happy all the time.” ( )
  dawnlovesbooks | Aug 22, 2017 |
I turned the last page but the story lingers. So well written. ( )
  kimkimkim | Aug 21, 2017 |
I thoroughly enjoyed Ordinary Grace and its nostalgic foray into the time and kind of small town where I grew up. I could really identify with Frank and admired his father's quiet grace -- too bad his mother couldn't appreciate her husband more. Although the core story is about death, Krueger's overall effect is warm and loving. The author really brings to life all the characters in this book but especially Frank as he struggles to understand his community, his family and himself through a tragedy that affects them all.

We had varying opinions on "Ordinary Grace," altho we all liked it a lot. Your take on the father and mother was the opposite of ours. We sympathized with the mother. She thought she was marrying a future lawyer, he became a minister instead, so her life was completely different than she had expected. Nathan came across as "perfect." I graduated high school in 1961, took great exception to his being kind and understanding to Karl. I simply do not believe that would have happened in 1961. No one was that enlightened back then. . . We were all disappointed that we never learned what Nathan had done exactly in the war. Gus called him Captain, made slight references to the war but it never went any further than that. When did you realize Lise had killed Ariel? The author dropped hints thruout the story, it all came together toward the end. Dodie said this book contains it all: brutality, bullying, prejudice, religion and antireligion, forgiveness, no forgiveness, special needs, etc. Jake's stuttering vanished. I didn't understand what Redstone meant when he said "You've killed me, white boy." It had to be explained that he was referring to the prejudice against Indians, he would be the natural suspect in the murders. All-in-all, we liked the book, are glad we read it. We especially like the Epilogue, telling us what had happened to the characters. ( )
  NMBookClub | Aug 16, 2017 |
Wow. A coming of age story, a puzzling mystery, a "sense of place" novel and so much more--all in one. I have to find more by Krueger. ( )
1 vote Mark_Bacon | Jul 24, 2017 |
Ordinary Grace is beautifully written. An amazing, well written book from start to finish. ( )
1 vote jaconstancio | Jun 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
It's the kind of book where you fight between wanting to race through it to the finish and attempting to make it last. Luckily it's paced so well and is so satisfying a meal for the mind, I was able to put it down every few chapters and happily mull over what has gone before, feeling sated.

It's the kind of introspective, intelligent novel where there are layers of meaning behind every word, and personal history and context wrapped in the motives of every character. It also has a strong plot, for those who like Kent Krueger for his thrillers.
Krueger has created a cast of compelling characters (young and old), each in his or her own way searching for something, including the narrator’s father, the town’s Methodist pastor, and his mother, whose bold personality worries his congregation.

Although Krueger’s plot rises to a predictable conclusion, there’s such a quiet beauty in his prose and such depth to his characters that I was completely captivated by this book’s ordinary grace
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The heart has reasons that reason does not understand. -- Blaise Pascal
For Diane, my extraordinary grace
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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.
With Mother home I liked the idea that we’d been saved as a family by the miracle of that ordinary grace.
I still spend a lot of time thinking about the events of that summer. About the terrible price of wisdom. The awful grace of God.
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“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family— which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother— he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.

Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.
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Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his thirteenth year, Frank Drum explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery, and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.

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