by William Kent Krueger.
“For thirteen –year old Frank Drum, the preacher’s son, it was a grim summer in 1961 in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” A coming of age story set among an unsettling Minnesota background.
Frank is growing up scrambling for meaning and full of confusion and fear. In the midst of that, a lot of frightening things happen that leave him in a constant state of apprehension. There are so many troubled characters in this book:
Jake is Frank’s younger brother. Jake is often quiet, especially outside of his home because he has a bad stutter: “I don’t like to talk to people because I’m afraid I’ll stutter and they’ll make fun of me. I feel like a freak sometimes.” There is a lot more to Jake than his stutter. He also has a way of understanding things and seeing things others don’t notice.
Ariel is Frank and Jake’s older sister. Ariel is her parents golden child. Everyone believes she is destined for greatness. She is her mother’s favorite. Ariel is hope for mother’s unfulfilled longings. Jake and Frank adore her. She is their confidante, conspirator, defender, encourager, and supporter. But is she as innocent as everyone thinks? Frank often catches her sneaking out late at night and he knows something isn’t quite right.
Their father, Nathan Drum, is a preacher. He is also a war vet and is clearly troubled by his past. There are several other war vets in the book as well. Gus- his father’s friend, a drunk, who lives in the basement of the church. Nathan often says that he owes Gus his life, but we never find out why.
“There are a lot of men left troubled by the war. Every man handles in a different way the damage war did to him. Some men seem to have put their wars behind them easily enough.”
“Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out.”
“The truth is when you kill a man it doesn’t matter if he’s your enemy and if he’s trying to kill you. That moment of his death will eat at you for the rest of your life. It’ll dig into bones so deep inside you that not even the hand of God is going to be able to pull it out, I don’t care how much you pray.”
Emile (Ariel’s piano instructor and Mrs. Drum’s dear friend) returned from World War II blind and disfigured and wanting to feed in isolation on the meat of his bitterness. He lives with his sister Lise who is also a bit of a recluse. Lise is mentally retarded and has no future that anyone could see. They are both two damaged souls that the rest of the family has pretty much abandoned.
The preacher’s wife and mother to Frank, Jake and Ariel is less than delighted with her life as a minister’s wife. She has a fondness for martinis and as things progress that summer, she becomes angrier and angrier at her husband for putting God before his family.
I had great expectations for this book and was a little disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to them. It was a little slow going at first, but once things start happening, I had just had to know how they ended. I hate that I had figured the book out before it ended, but not everyone will. A literary mystery that isn’t that thrilling, but will really get to the heart of things.
“What is happiness? In my experience, it’s only a moment’s pause here and there on what is otherwise a long and difficult road. No one can be happy all the time.”