Her favorite book of the summer was William Kent Krueger's ( http://www.williamkentkrueger.com/ ) "Ordinary Grace."
She threw down the gauntlet and I picked it up.
I read this book in just two days. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Krueger but can tell you that his writing style is purely graceful, slow and melodic yet building in intensity. Genre fanatics will have a difficult time placing this novel in a box - a very fine thing.
The narrator, Frank, from the wisdom of his sixty-some years, is looking back at his twelfth summer, the year in which he grew up way too fast. It's 1961 and life in New Bremen, Minnesota, is that ideal kind of time that we doubt exists anymore. In fact, it's much like the atmosphere that I grew up in in Massachusetts or that Cathy grew up in on the plains of Illinois. You could leave the house in the morning, bike baskets filled with sandwiches and sodas, and never come home 'til evening. No one worried, no one had to.
But that summer a little boy is killed on the railroad tracks. Soon afterward, Frank and his younger brother Jake come upon the dead body of an itinerant down on the riverbed where they always play. And oh so slowly, Krueger taints the idyllic charm of this small town, exposing the nasty underbelly of any so-called paradise.
Frankie and Jake Drum are no strangers to death. Their dad is the local Methodist minister, and his friend Gus, a fellow war veteran who lives in the basement of the church, is the gravedigger. But when death comes even closer to home the boys' live are upended, suspicion falls on strangers and friends alike, their parents withdraw into their separate hells, one believing that God is the answer, the other sure that he does not exist.
This startlingly lovely novel reminded me so much of Louise Erdrich's "Round House" in its examination of crime and its effect on the psyche of a small town. Krueger also addresses the nature of prejudice, whether against another culture, sexual orientation, or class. Moral ambiguities abound. Faith is tested. Split second, from the gut decisions may haunt someone for a lifetime but love, remembrance, and forgiveness prevail. As I said, it's a time that we may doubt exists anymore but it's a lovely place to spend some time.