NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER WINNER OF THE 2014 EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL WINNER OF THE 2014 DILYS AWARD A SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF 2013
“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.
This reading group guide forOrdinary Graceincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In 1961 New Bremen, Minnesota, all is quiet and serene. The Minnesota River flows through the countryside, the town barber knows everyone’s name, and folks dutifully attend church every Sunday. But that serenity is thrown into turmoil as a series of tragic deaths lead thirteen-year-old Frank Drum and his family on a hunt for terrible truths. But at what cost comes wisdom? In this powerful novel from the author of the Cork O’Connor mysteries, a boy must leave his childhood behind and confront the dark nature of the adult world and its myriad moral questions: What secrets will destroy us? How do we deal with grief? And what solace is there in the ordinary grace of the world?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the final revelation of Ariel’s whereabouts. Had you guessed correctly?
2. Much of Frank and Jake’s knowledge comes from overhearing and snooping. Which instance of eavesdropping provided them with the heaviest, most important information? Is there a particular overheard conversation that led most directly to the loss of their childhood innocence?
3. Along those same lines, in what ways have the two boys been transformed by story’s end?
4. Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Karl Brandt?
5. A number of characters carry secrets that eventually come to light. Was there a certain catharsis once they were able to unload the truth? Did it do them any good? Consider especially Frank’s father, whose deeds in the war remained a mystery. Is there some merit to carrying the burden of a secret alone?
6. Though the title of the novel refers to a particular “ordinary grace,” what other small graces did you find in the book?
7. Why does Ruth leave her family? Do you think she was truly mad at Nathan? At God? Discuss the ways in which she and the other characters deal with their grief over Ariel.
8. Do you agree with Frank’s insight in the epilogue that, “there is no such thing as a true event?” What makes a story real? How do we deal with varying perspectives and reflections of history?
9. Do you think Frank had a responsibility to tell Emil about Lise? Was there merit to Jake’s argument that her fenced-in estate was prison enough?
10. Do you forgive Emil for his moment of indiscretion? Is he in some way to blame for everything that happened in New Bremen?
11. Frank and Jake often make a case to come along to the sheriff’s office, crime scenes, and pivotal confrontations during the upheaval in New Bremen. Should they have been allowed to bear witness to these things? Should children be shielded from the occasional darkness of adult life?
12. What do you make of Gus? Is he in some ways the backbone (though not a true relative) of the Drum family?
13. Do you agree with the sentiment of the older Warren Redstone? Is it true that the departed are never far from us?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Tragedy and controversy will occasionally befall a small town like New Bremen. Has something similar ever happened in your town? Discuss the details of that incident, and how/if it changed things for you.
2. Much of our perspective in Ordinary Grace comes through Frank and Jake’s by-foot travels throughout town, through the hidden passages and remote clearings. Make a similar journey through your own neighborhood. What places are ripe for a secret? Where can you go for peace and meditation?
3. List and discuss the ordinary graces and miracles you’ve experienced. How do small moments help us deal with larger-than-life trouble?
4. Read any one of the novels in William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mystery series and discuss how the suspense of the Minnesota that O’Connor inhabits compares to the more pastoral mystery of the Drum family.
William Kent Krueger is the award-winning author of the New York Times bestselling Ordinary Grace, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel, as well as eighteen Cork O’Connor novels, including Desolation Mountain and Sulfur Springs. He lives in the Twin Cities with his family. Visit his website at WilliamKentKrueger.com.
“A pitch-perfect, wonderfully evocative examination of violent loss. In Frank Drum's journey away from the shores of childhood—a journey from which he can never return—we recognize the heartbreaking price of adulthood and its 'wisdoms.' I loved this book.”
– Dennis Lehane, New York Times bestselling author of Live by Night and The Given Day
“Krueger’s elegy for innocence is a deeply memorable tale.”
– Washington Post
“A respected mystery writer turns his attention to the biggest mystery of all: God. An award-winning author for his long-running Cork O’ Connor series, Krueger aims higher and hits harder with a standalone novel that shares much with his other work.... 'the awful grace of God,' as it manifests itself within the novel, would try the faith of the most devout believer. Yet, ultimately, the world of this novel is one of redemptive grace and mercy, as well as unidentified corpses and unexplainable tragedy. A novel that transforms narrator and reader alike.”
– Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“...elegiac, evocative.... a resonant tale of fury, guilt, and redemption.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Once in a blue moon a book drops down on your desk that demands to be read. You pick it up and read the first page, and then the second, and you are hooked. Such a book is Ordinary Grace…This is a book that makes the reader feel better just by having been exposed to the delights of the story. It will stay with you for quite some time and you will always remember it with a smile.”
– Huffington Post
“One cannot read Ordinary Grace without feeling as if it is destined to be hailed as a classic work of literature. Ordinary Grace is one of those very rare books in which one regrets reaching its end, knowing that the experience of having read it for the first time will never be repeated. Krueger, who is incapable of writing badly, arguably has given us his masterpiece.”
“My best read so far this year.”
“A thoughtful literary mystery that is wholly compelling and will appeal to fans of Dennis Lehane and Tom Franklin. . . Don’t take the title too literally, for Krueger has produced something that is anything but ordinary.”
“Not often does a story feel at once fresh and familiar. But Ordinary Grace, a new novel from William Kent Krueger, is both, and it is affecting.”
– Denver Post
“Ordinary Grace is engaging from the first page, a quiet novel that unfurls its sad story slowly, but eloquently, leaving its mark on your heart.”
– The Missourian
“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.”
– Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“A superb literary novel.”
– New York Journal of Books
“...the tone is much like To Kill a Mockingbird, with its combination of dread and nostalgia.”
– Detroit News
“Everything about this book, from language to ideas to Aeschylus’s epigram is beautiful and you’ll think about it long after you’re finished reading.”
– The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“I realized within pages this would be one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. The gathering threat and its consummation are satisfying and meaningful. This is an intelligent and compelling story told with great heart.... A perfect book club read, truly a book to love and read more than once. Absolutely recommended.”
– Historical Novel Society
“Besides being a terrific story that examines a powerful range of human experiences and emotions, it was the authentic voice of the teenage narrator, Frank Drum, that kept me reading late into the night. Though the tone is quiet, Krueger artfully layered the story with suspenseful examinations of family life, death, fury, spiritual fiber and redemption.”
– Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
“Sometimes a work of fiction just comes to you, sits in your soul, touches your life experiences and then is hard to remember as fiction. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger is such a novel."