A novel about a family in 1961

"Ordinary Grace" by William Kent Krueger, Atria Books, 320 pages, $24.99.

It is 1961 in New Bremen, Minn. Frank Drum is 13. He is narrating from his perspective at that time and from 40 years later.

His father, Nathan, is a Methodist minister. His mother, Ruth, is an aspiring writer. Frank's older sister, Ariel, plays the organ and composes music. She was just accepted to Julliard in New York. Frank shares a bedroom with his younger brother, Jake, who is undergoing therapy for a stutter.

 Ruth Drum dated Emil Brant before she met Nathan and at times she regrets her choice. Emil is a talented musician who was blinded in the war and now tutors Ariel. Emil's sister, Lise, who is deaf, is a good friend of Jake's. Ariel is dating Emil and Lise's nephew, Karl. Nathan tries to help his alcoholic war buddy, Gus, by allowing him to live in the church's basement.

Five people will die over the summer. The first is Bobby Cole, a child who is hit by a train.

This is a story of coping with tragedy and how people who you may not think will be compassionate will help you deal with your grief. One of the people who dies over the summer is murdered, but this is not a murder mystery. It is a well-written novel about a family in a small town. The only failing of the novel is the transparency of who committed the murder.

***

"The Office of Mercy" by Ariel Djanikian, Viking, 304 pages, $26.95.

This is a post-apocalyptic novel. Natasha Wiley, 26, lives in  America-Five. People survived the Storm. Those who dwell in an underground settlement are provided for. Those who live outside are not.

Natasha works in an office that carries out ethnic cleansing. She has never been outside. Then Jeffrey selects her to join a team to venture outside.

While the plot is good, the stilted conversation detracts from it. The ending is such that the reader suspects it is the first in a series.
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