I’m moderating a book group this week that read William Kent Krueger’s novel Ordinary Grace as part of the South Dakota One book program. To prepare for the presentation, I needed to go back and reread the book. I was taken by how different the experience of reading the book was the second time around.
I’m a fan of Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mystery series. It’s a somewhat formulaic series of twelve mysteries that take place in Northern Minnesota. There was a time in my professional career where I was on an airplane every week, and in the days before Kindle, I always brought two books with me for every flight just in case I didn’t like one. My intention in these readings was pure entertainment, something to make me forget the cramped seats, stuffy cabin air, over-important business travelers and overweight seatmates. I viewed it like watching network television sitcoms – brain candy. In that time I went through many of the most popular murder mystery series and I thought that Krueger’s series was certainly as entertaining as any. The fact that the action took place in Minnesota and I had seen him speak a few times was an added benefit.
At one of his talks he mentioned that one of his contract negotiations with the publisher was that he got to write a different book if he agreed to do X many more in the O’Connor series. I wished I had that problem.
The first time I read Ordinary Grace I was not particularly impressed. Krueger’s chops as a mystery writer were evident as his plot included a murder mystery, several red herrings and an eventual solving of the mystery. Perhaps that’s what threw me. I read it as a murder mystery, the same way I read the O’Connor series and was frustrated by the pacing. I gave it a B – and did not think it was nearly as entertaining as the books in his series.
Reading it eighteen months later, I got an entirely different view. Since I was going to be talking to a book group, I took my time and absorbed the whole book. What I realized was that the murder mystery is only a small part of the overall theme. In fact, one of the themes was that solving the murder didn’t really matter.
My mom asked me what the book was about and it took me twenty minutes to come up with an answer. At some time in the future I will write here about the themes of “death” and “grace.”
By the time I finished the second reading I realized how much I‘d missed as I blew through the book the first time. I’d give the book an A- now (I’m a pretty hard grader) and am very appreciative of how aggressive Krueger was in addressing complicated and intense themes. I had to have my mind prepared to read the book in depth and then take some time to think about them to get it.
It is kind of scary to think that I might have missed many more impactful books, because I wasn’t prepared to read them closely and then to think about them afterward.