William Kent Krueger is a prolific writer, Ordinary Grace clocking in as his fourteenth offering and nominated for an Edgar Award in the Best Novel category. I have read all of his previous work, eagerly awaiting each new submission and purchasing it (full price!) as soon as it was published; that’s how much I like his writing. (There are a handful of writers whose books I will purchase in my small, one-woman effort to support their writing. Most of the time I lug home my reading material from the library.)

I was thrilled to see Kent Krueger’s latest novel nominated for an Edgar because I was sure that meant at least one of the books I would read for my reviews would be stellar. I’m sorry to report that is not the case with Ordinary Grace. A quick summary of the story: During the summer of 1961 Frank Drum, a thirteen-year-old boy living in New Bremen, Minnesota, is exposed to several unexplained deaths: a young boy his age, a homeless man, and his own older sister Ariel. Frank and his tag-along younger brother Jake move through the summer trying to make sense of the deaths while watching their father unsuccessfully try to support their mother as she mentally unravels.

The story itself is interesting and warmly evocative of a specific place and time. Krueger is a master at establishing a sense of place through artful description and judicious use of sensory detail. We are right there with Frank and Jake. My disgruntlement comes when the telling of the story is done from the perspective of the Adult Frank looking back forty years to this particular summer. The story would be much stronger if told from Frank’s point of view as the story happens, so that the reader is treated to Frank’s full evolution from innocence to experience. When Adult Frank comments on events as they happen, the reader is jolted from the immediacy (and intimacy) of the story, which weakens (and distances us from) the impact of the events.

Another factor that I found particularly annoying (and again, I love Krueger’s writing) was stylistic. Krueger has decided to dismiss the comma and replace it with ‘and’. For example:

“Because of my father’s occupation I was used to late night urgencies and because I’d witnessed her comings and goings that summer I was used to Ariel sneaking off in the dark and returning safely before dawn and because I was little more than a child still wrapped in a soothing blanket of illusion I trusted that my mother and father together could handle anything and I went back to my bedroom and drifted selfishly into sleep listening to the distant distraught voices of my parents while they continued their telephone calls and waited anxiously for word of their daughter.” (p.151)

Here’s what I wonder: Is Krueger experimenting with something new and different? Perhaps he’s been reading Ulysses. Or is Ordinary Grace an early effort that has languished in a drawer, unpublished because of its weaknesses, only to be resuscitated and published now because the author is popular and widely read? Or am I just a cynical reader/critic? Happily, I’ll be able to float my theories to Kent Krueger directly at the Midwest Writers’ Workshop in Muncie, Indiana this July.

For purposes of the Edgars, on a scale of one to ten I rate this novel a 5.

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