Prather’s Pick: A coming-of-age novel
My sister, Darlene Blackford of Rocky Ford, sent me this week’s novel. “Ordinary Grace,” recipient of the Edger Award for Best Novel, was written by William Kent Krueger. He is also author of “This Tender Land.”
I liked this novel—a lot! In my opinion, it is destined to become a classic. It has been excellently-crafted so that the novel is memorable. Sometimes, after a period of time has passed, I have to thumb through a novel I have read once again to remember its plot—not this one. There’s depth to the interesting characters, and the plot is compelling.
The setting is New Bremen, Minnesota, during the summer of 1961. Readers who lived during this time can relate to the quiet town where customers gather at Bon Ton’s Barbershop or sit at the soda fountain of Halderson’s Drugstore, enjoying root beer floats in frosted mugs. It is the time that people enjoy reading comic books, and television is black and white and viewers enjoy “The Restless Gun.”
The novel is told from Frank Dunn’s perspective 40 years later, but it is narrated by thirteen-year-old Frank. Frank lives with his father, a preacher; his mother, the choir director with a beautiful voice; his brother Jake, who stutters when he is angry or scared; and his sister Ariel, who has graduated from New Bremen High School and plans on attending Juilliard in the fall. She plays the organ at church services.
Frank’s father is in charge of the spiritual needs of the congregations in three churches in the area so every Sunday the entire family attends all three services. Because he is a preacher, Frank’s father gets involved in the town’s happenings—like the death of Bobby Cole.
Bobby was a special needs boy who was Frank’s age but had been kept back in school so was not in the same grade. He died after being struck by a train. People said it appeared that he just sat there on the track and didn’t try to move. It was the first death that summer, and others were to follow: deaths assuming many forms—accidental, natural, suicide, and murder.
Characters in the novel include Gus, a man who served with Frank’s father in World War II. Gus showed up in New Bremen and now lives in the church basement. He works at the cemetery. Emil Brandt and his sister Lise live in the Brandt Mansion. Lise, born deaf, takes care of her brother Emil who is blind. Emil is a piano virtuoso and composer. He has instructed Ariel in piano, and she is transcribing his memoirs for a book. These and other characters contribute greatly to the novel’s plot.
“Ordinary Grace” is published by Atria Paperback, an imprint of Simon & Schuster (2013). The book costs about $17.99. Thanks for sending the book, Darlene. It is a must-read.
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