“When you look back at a life, what you see is a path that weaves in and out of deep shadow.”
Arctic temperatures warmed by the sun’s glare escorted another fictional town, New Bremen, Minnesota and its cast of characters into the home of Jean Alexander for Bookers’ Christmas gathering. 28 arrived to celebrate friendships; toast our fellow book lover personas; and bask in the message of a timely novel about a “grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it.” A miracle happened that day of ordinary grace within the sorrow of a family’s tragedy a simple prayer offered in perfect speech was unexplainable but every word, unforgettable.
As “ordinary,” the Alexander’s home rejoiced in the spirit of Christmas. Many thanks to Bonnie Magee for coordinating our fare, to everyone who contributed, and to reader extraordinaire, Jack Stone, for recognizing a Bookers’ book!
Collectively our hearts go out to all who are suffering through personal illness or that of a loved one. Lois and Charlotte, you and your families are in our thoughts and prayers and we hope Kim Hand is on the road to recovery from her recent surgery.
Melba and a few others grew up in a small town similar to New Bremen where everyone knew your name and your business, where life was simpler and more serene, where the clatter of a train was as common as the jangle from the ice cream truck. It was a time baseball came alive on transistor radios, where swimming holes, grape Nehi, drugstores serving ice-cold root beers, board games, model airplanes, and comic books, were staples of everyday life. The telephone was in the hallway, fried bologna sandwiches and cherry Kool-Aid ruled lunch, and Church served the faithful and provided a sanctuary for grieving. Melba, once again, lent her perspective and intuitiveness to the review and we are all thankful for this effort, but mostly, we are thankful for her!
The sixty-three year old author of Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger, writes the popular Cork O’Connor mystery series. His third grade teacher praised his flair for writing and by the age of nineteen, he wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. In the course of researching everything “Papa,” he found a couple of things he wanted to incorporate as his own. “Hemingway never wore underwear,” so he thought if it’s good enough for him, he’d try it. He discovered Hemingway “was made of sterner stuff,” so he went back to his Fruit of the Looms. He was able to emulate his favorite time of day to write – “at first light” – much more doable than the commando look. When the idea for Ordinary Grace came to him, he couldn’t ignore it…he wanted to write something that would allow him to revisit the past – a time that was important in his own life. Much of this book is biographical, which explains the moving account of his protagonist’s life – a boy standing at the door of manhood trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. He wrote a novel about “discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.” His next novel, a sister to this one, is named This Tender Land, set in Black Earth County in 1957, but won’t be out for at least two years. His latest Cork O’Connor novel, Tamarack County, was released in August.
Ordinary Grace, set in the summer of 1961, was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new young President. For the protagonist, thirteen-year old Frank Drum it was a summer filled with death in many forms – an accident, by nature, a suicide, and a murder. The characters, richly developed and diverse include the Drum family: Frank Drum, the narrator who didn’t believe in the “pearly gates version of heaven.” His father, Nathan, is the Methodist minister and his mother, Ruth, the antithesis of a minister’s wife, is full of deep emotion and drama. She has movie star looks and fancies herself as a world famous author like Ayn Rand. When she sang, “she could make a fence post cry.” His younger brother, red-hair and freckled Jake, stuttered in public, idolized his older brother, and was wiser than his years. Eighteen-year old Ariel, their older sister, was Juilliard bound with enviable talent and adored by her family, especially by Ruth as she saw her own dreams fulfilled in her daughter. The well-healed Brandt family gave us a mix of dysfunction between Emil, a blind and physically scarred musical virtuoso, his younger sister, Lise, born deaf and difficult with fits of rage and tantrums, and nephew Karl, who lived a lie that eventually ended in his death. The minor characters filled out the town with a Native American Indian family with an Irish last name and an uncle on the run, a bosomy blonde neighbor and her husband with marital problems, an abusive husband, a friend and fellow military buddy, a vindictive police officer, a stereotypical bully/bad guy who instilled fear just from his demeanor. The novel touched many themes with a religious thread running throughout. It covered secrets, lies, betrayal, handicaps, financial disparities, bullying, murder, suicide, loyalty of friends, family relationships, brothers loving brothers, homosexuality, grief and hope, truth, and consequences.
Our discussion focused on how this book struck a chord – as if it was a chapter taken out of personal lives; how the author brought to our attention the significance of his phrasings, like “pain dripping on the heart or her fingers shaped the music every bit as magnificently as God shaped the wings of a butterfly.” We talked about the relationship between Nathan and Ruth, how each handled the grief thrust on their family; how Ruth had her dreams killed twice, once when she became a minister’s wife, the other with the death of her daughter. We shared our thoughts on the sermon Nathan delivered for Ariel and how Frank so profoundly awakened by the words because they echoed his own beliefs, prompted him to let his brother know the depth of his feelings for him. We spoke of how we’re all angels to someone in a time of crisis and how deep faith in a power greater than ourselves is essential to reconciling tragedy. The title of the book is so poignant because a miracle arrived in the steady voice of a young man who conquered fear, and a mother returned to her family.
On the Business Side:
As a recap, the following is the rating system MN and I have assigned to OUR opinions of books we’ve read. Again, this is meant to be a guideline only.
5 Stars: Order Now. Expedited shipping worthy. Include in your will.
4 Stars: Borders on Little Bee
3 Stars: Beach Read
2 Stars: Borrow don’t buy
1 Star: Put your money back in the piggy bank
We’re still searching for a good read for April. We’ll offer 4 for votes next month. I’ve finished Don’t Let Me Go by Katherine Ryan Hyde and agree with MN’s rating of (4+) – I loved it! The Unexpected Son by Shobhan Bantwal, is set in New Jersey, when one morning a letter arrives from India turning the protagonist’s comfortable world upside down – her illegitimate son, who she believed stillborn, is alive and in need of a bone marrow transplant. As I read, I kept comparing this tale to our January 2008 pick by Thrity Umrigar, The Space Between Us. Both are female Indian authors who transport us to their native land, exploring Indian culture and the disparities of their caste system.The difference I found was in the writing…favoring Umrigar’s style over Bantwal. It’s an easy to read, makes you ask what would I do, is informative, and has a happy ending, although not tied up in a neat package. (3)
MN has read: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, set in a small farming community in the Appalachians weaving together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. Not rated because she didn’t finish it; it was too technical for her tastes. Lost Girls by Celina Grace focuses on a ten-year old girl whose best friend disappears and the effect this has on her life. Good story, great characters, recommended reading, (3+) Daughters of our Time by Jennifer Handford, a debut novel about infertility, cancer and adoption…a couple adopts a child from China…grab the hankies. (4.5) Finding Emma by Steena Holmes is about a five-year old who is abducted by an Alzheimer’s patient who sincerely thinks she is her granddaughter…liked it a lot. (4). The sequel, Emma’s Secret gets a (2.)
Others to consider, Beverly Dossett read Disenchanted Widow by Christina McKenna, author of The Misremembered Man takes place in the summer of 1981. Newly widowed Bessie is fleeing Belfast with her young son looking for a fresh start. She gives it a (3+-4.) Kay Robinson has read John Grisham’s latest, Sycamore Row, and really liked it…would be a Bookers’ book in her opinion (4), Pat Conroy’s non-fiction, Death of Santini is on my stack.
Both Leslie and Cherry have seen The Book Thief and loved it.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM:
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
January 7th 2014 The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Note earlier date PINK
Home of Beverly Dossett
Reviewer: Melanie Prebis
February 11th: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Home of Patty Evans
Reviewer: Patty Evans
March 11th: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Home of Marlene Ungarean
Reviewer: Jean McSpadden
April 8th: Book TBA
Home of Sandy Molander
May 13th: Wonder by R.J. Palacio regular meeting 10:00 AM
Home of Charlotte Pechacek
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
Amid the darkness, we must remember, “the foundations of eternity are the gifts of faith, hope, and love.” We have control over them and they cannot be taken back. “It is we who choose to discard them.”
Happy Holidays & Happy Reading