Comparative: William Kent Krueger’s “This Tender Land” and “Ordinary Grace” – Part 3: From Innocence Springs Truth

Welcome back if you have read parts 1 and 2, and welcome if you have not!  I will include two short summaries[i] of the books below in the footnotes, if needed.  In this series, I am focusing on the intersection in both books of the following themes:  the history and treatment of Native American Indians, characters with disabilities and special abilities, and innocence as a conduit to truth in a coming of age story.  Today, the comparison will be about the main characters’ innocence as a way to present the truth in the stories. 

First, in the novel, “This Tender Land,” Odie and Albert seek freedom from the horrible Lincoln Indian Training School that they are banished to after their father’s death.  And unintentionally, during their escape to freedom Odie finds the truth about his mother.  His truth is that of the core of his identity and yet his innocence seeking the safety and care of his aunt in St. Louis brings that truth and many truths about his life to light.  It is a combination of Odie’s innocence as a young boy, on the run, coming of age during the time of his trials and his seeking freedom that leads him to the truth.  The journey he embarks upon with his brother and friends leads him to St. Louis.  There, unbeknownst to him, his Aunt Julia is not only actually his mother, but also knows the Black Witch, Thelma Brickman.  All the truth comes out in a shocking battle scene, where Julia and Thelma (spoiler alert) fight and fall out a window.  Julia survives.  Odie is again confronted with many truths that propel him into adulthood, and yet he is able to take it all in and make sense of it even after losing some of his innocence during his discovery.

Second, in the novel, “Ordinary Grace,” another young man, Frank Drum, seeks the truth about all the mysterious deaths during the summer, in particular, the death of his sister.  His innocence leads him astray thinking that his friend’s uncle, the only Native American Indian suspect, is actually the one who did it.  However, his innocence also causes him to pursue any loose end, and as he starts to look at Emil Brandt’s sister, Lise, he realizes the clues lead directly to her.  In another stunning battle scene similar to that in, “This Tender Land,” Frank Drum and Lise fight unexpectedly throwing Jake Drum into harm’s way.  Without thinking, Lise is about to kill or severely harm Jake with a shovel when she looks at him and stops.  Only by the grace of God did she realize what she was about to do and stop herself.  And comparatively, only by the grace of God did Aunt Julia get saved from the fall while Thelma died. 

In both books, the author utilizes these characters to expose truths throughout the books.  The truth in the ending as highlighted here though is the biggest unveiling that only their childhood innocence could unlock.  What makes the stories all the more beautiful is that neither Frank nor Odie become jaded.  They both seem to still see the beauty in the world and piece their own puzzles together over time. 

Hopefully William Kent Krueger will continue writing these beautiful stories and there will be more novels like these to read soon.

© 2020 Megan Davia Mikhail

[i] “In Minnesota, in the summer of 1932, on the banks of the Gilead River, the Lincoln Indian Training School is a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to Odie O’Banion, a lively orphan boy whose exploits constantly earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Odie and his brother, Albert, are the only white faces among the hundreds of Native American children at the school.

After committing a terrible crime, Odie and Albert are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. Out of pity, they also take with them a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Together, they steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi in search of a place to call home. Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphan vagabonds journey into the unknown, crossing paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds.” Excerpted from the William Kent Kreuger website available at: “In 1961 New Bremen, Minnesota, all is quiet and serene. The Minnesota River flows through the countryside, the town barber knows everyone’s name, and folks dutifully attend church every Sunday. But that serenity is thrown into turmoil as a series of tragic deaths lead thirteen-year-old Frank Drum and his family on a hunt for terrible truths. But at what cost comes wisdom? In this powerful novel from the author of the Cork O’Connor mysteries, a boy must leave his childhood behind and confront the dark nature of the adult world and its myriad moral questions: What secrets will destroy us? How do we deal with grief? And what solace is there in the ordinary grace of the world?”

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