William Kent Krueger has been writing novels for over 20 years and while in some circles he may be a household name, I had not heard of him until I read, quite by chance, Ordinary Grace in July 2020. I was blown away by the simplistic beauty of his writing; the slow-moving but poignant story line that unfolded like a meandering river. Born in the American Midwest, his stories are infused with the cultural personality and landscape of that region and his descriptions of the landscape are quite evocative.
When I got the chance to read his newest offering, This Tender Land, I felt like it might be the perfect opportunity to while away the hours of a few lazy summer days, and I was not disappointed! This book has all of the elements that keep a reader riveted – crime, mystery, suspense, love, despair, and hope. They’re all bound together in an elegantly presented story that, while at times is harsh and cruel, nevertheless maintains a tenderness about it that keeps the reader holding on. There is a subtly powerful spiritual thread that is interwoven throughout the narrative which is influenced by Kreuger’s interest in the Ojibwe culture.
Set in 1932, the story is told from the perspective of Odie O’Banion, a 12-year-old boy who, along with his brother Albert, are the only two white children living at the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota. Odie’s rebelliousness finds him in frequent trouble at the hands of the cruel and merciless superintendent, Thelma Brickman, otherwise known as the Black Witch. In spite of his brother’s efforts to get Odie to temper his behaviour, the injustices mount and soon the two boys and their friend Moses, a young Sioux student whose tongue was cut off by the people who murdered his mother, find themselves in a situation that requires them to escape from the school. Before leaving, they ’kidnap’ Emmy Frost, the 6-year-old daughter of a beloved teacher from the school who was killed when her barn was toppled during a tornado.
The journey on which these four embark tests their faith, loyalty, compassion, will, and strength. Each of them will be challenged to discover their deepest desires, and the reader will cry and cheer along with them as they confront obstacles and perils as well as kindness and generosity along their journeys.