The way this story is told reminds me of Stand By Me. (I saw the movie version, haven’t read the book.)
We have two boys, their father who is a minister, their musically-gifted sister and mother, a blind renowned musician, his deaf sister, the minister’s friend who is a drinking and a gambling gravedigger, an Indian, and a cop who seem to form the cast of main characters. On the surface, it seems almost impossible to take this group and form a story worth reading, but this author did it.
I was captivated from the beginning and the story kept my interest all the way through to the end. Somewhere along the way, I forgot this is fiction and thought I was reading a memoir.
The story has an accidental death (suspected murder by some), murder, an apparent suicide, and an exploration of a number of relationships: parent/child, husband/wife, sibling/sibling, father/son, pastor/flock, friend/friend, and boy/girl.
We see the effect on a profound loss on a marriage and a family, how it has the potential to destroy it. With the death of Ariel (Frank and Jake’s sister), their family seemingly falls apart, his mother losing her faith in God. I thought she was exaggerating when she told her minister husband that if he mentioned God one more time, she’d leave. His next words to her include a mention of Him and, true to her word, she left home.
Will the several tragic events in the book, the most heart wrenching for me is the death of Karl. Through all the suspicion surrounding him, he was simply a young man hiding the secret of his sexuality. Defending himself against accusations of causing Ariel’s death, he tells the minister his secret. The boys eavesdrop and are caught by off-duty Officer Doyle. Coming to Karl’s defense, young and innocent Jake tells him about the teen’s sexuality, not understanding what it means. Of course, Doyle runs off at the mouth and the secret gets out, resulting in Karl killing himself.
Events after this lead to another scene that tugged at my heartstrings. Gus is arrested and Frank pleads for his temporary release so that he can finish digging Ariel’s grave. The task is important because he remembers what Gus told him about graves.
“Because he comes from a long line of gravediggers, and he won’t just dig a hole.”
“But, son, that’s what a grave is,” Officer Blake said. “Just a hole.”
“No, sir, it’s not. When it’s done well, it’s a box carved into the earth that will hold something precious. I don’t just want anyone carving Ariel’s box.”
This is also the story Jake’s coming of age. Under all the things going on around him, he strikes back at a bully who makes disparaging remarks about his brother and sister, wonders about love, and begins to learn through observation of his father, Gus, and Officer Doyle, what being a man is all about. We see his internal struggle during the time period he thinks he allowed his sister’s murderer to escape and his finally unburdening himself to his father.
I found the story’s epilogue bittersweet. The nostalgic placing of flowers on loved ones gone is always sad to me. In the last chapter, the true identity of Ariel’s killer was revealed, and the epilogue ties up all the loose ends and brings us to current day.
I’d never heard of this author before, but I will definitely be on the lookout for his other books.
I give Ordinary Grace five stars. It’s an excellent read.
** Disclosure: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I received no monetary or other compensation.