Ordinary Grace takes place during the summer of 1961 in a small Minnesota town of New Bremen. It’s the kind of town with lots of history and no secrets. Author William Kent Krueger paints a beautifully detailed picture of life in the town. Perhaps a bit too detailed, but the reader can’t help but become immersed in the time and place. The town is populated by bullies, rich folk, folks with disabilities, Native Americans, drunks, veterans of two world wars, and cops. And during this summer, a few mysterious deaths have taken up residence.
Frank, the adventurous teen-aged narrator, and his rule-following younger brother Jake learn some important lessons about life, death, and the people they love most. Many of those lessons are gleaned by eavesdropping on conversations they weren’t meant to hear. As a writer, I appreciated Krueger’s use of that clever device to bring other voices into the telling of what is a first-person narrative.
What we wish for our children:
And what is happiness, Nathan? 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. Better, I think, to wish for her wisdom, a virtue not so fickle.
I think that it wasn’t so much the war as what we took into the war. Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out. You and your life philosophy, for example. You may have gone to war thinking you were going to be a hotshot lawyer afterward, but I believe that deep inside of you there was always the seed of a minister.
Life and death:
Loss, once it’s become a certainty, is like a rock you hold in your hand. It has weight and dimension and texture. It’s solid and can be assessed and dealt with. You can use it to beat yourself or you can throw it away.
Knowing was far worse that not knowing. Not knowing had offered hope. Hope that there was some possibility we’d overlooked. That a miracle might yet occur.
In your dark night, I urge you to hold your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way….The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.
It’s hard to say good-bye and almost impossible to accomplish this alone and ritual is the railing we hold to, all of us together, that keeps us upright and connected until the worst is past.
While there is much loss, much sadness in Ordinary Grace, it is ultimately a hopeful story. It offers hard-won everyday wisdom and hope to survive the inevitable trials of life.