Ordinary Grace

This afternoon I read Ordinary Grace  by William Kent Krueger, a book that took me to a small town, New Bremen, Minnesota in 1961, where complex tragedy strikes a small family and ripples through the community in astonishing ways. Krueger is an author I’ve followed for many years, relishing my dozen or so visits to the place he knows so well, Minnesota, and with his part Irish, part Ojibwe Indian protagonist, Cork O’Connor.

Although I just recently discovered it, Ordinary Grace was first published in early 2014, and is a significantly different book than any of Krueger’s previous mystery series. Krueger says he wanted to explore another way of writing to explore the themes of loss, hope, faith, and the relationships people have. Although the richly colorful characters in this literary mystery all possess brokenness in either physical or emotional ways, we are guided by the protagonist, young Frank Drum, as he comes of age and eventually discovers that the sometimes-fragile thread of grace is always present, even in the face of his own profound loss.

Krueger notes that he felt the story came largely from outside himself, although parts are drawn from his own childhood experiences. “That there was so much brokenness surprised me, but we are all broken in some way. The task became to fit these people together into a not-perfect whole; sometimes that meant letting go and allowing the story to show me what it’s supposed to be.”

Twice, lightly in the beginning and in more depth at the end, he makes mention of the following quotation by Aeschylus, often called “the father or founder of tragedy.”

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”                               ~
Aeschylus

In this context, awful grace sounds terrible—but is not—because, while tragedy is beyond our comprehension and seems terrible, enormous grace surrounds us all and is what accompanies us as we sojourn through the tragic parts of life.

One of my favorite parts of the book is this conversation between Warren Redstone, an Indian and  prime suspect for the murder of Frank’s young sister—and Frank Drum. The actual murderer has been identified and this conversation between the two men follows:

Redstone: “They’re never far from us, you know.”

Frank:        “Who?”

Redstone:  “The dead. No more than a breath. You let that last one go and you’re with them again.”

Later, Frank verbalizes this truth to himself: The dead are never far from us. They are in our hearts, in our minds, and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one puff of air.

I found Ordinary Grace to be a treasure, one that has left me feeling filled with, well, grace. And that is not an ordinary gift.

 

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me to a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I found so many opportunities to grow: 10 year facilitator for an online writing circle of women writers across the country; thirteen year editor of the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal; a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site; program chair for two Stories from the Heart national conferences in Austin, T. Presently I'm teaching Women's Life-Writing and Older Women's Legacy workshops in my part of the world in Central Virginia and facilitating the ongoing Circle of Memories Writing Circle (formerly an OWL workshop that continued on) at the Crozet Public Library. I am blessed with three wonderful children, a son and two daughters; a small, huge-hearted family; dear friends; my beagle Addie and cat Button. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. All these years later, I'm scheduled to publish my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life, in 2018.
This entry was posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Childhood, Community, Compassion, Courage, Family, Grace, Kindness, Mystery, Peacefulness. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ordinary Grace

  1. Oh no… your review is so powerful my Goodreads to be read list is getting longer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Jo Doig says:

    I know how you feel about that list. I’m looking at the pile I brought home from the conference…. Ah well, it’s all good! 🙂

    Like

  3. cynthiabooks says:

    I’m going to read this book

    Like

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