For the people of New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961 would be a summer of death, and that was especially true for rebellious 13-year-old Frank Drum. The first death was a boy his age, a lonely boy Frank regretted not reaching out to. He and his younger brother Jake would discover the second body and kept secret their talk with the old Native American man going through the dead man’s pockets. The next deaths would involve Frank’s own family.
Frank’s story, told forty years later, of what happened that summer perfectly captures the essence of small-town America in 1961. It was a more innocent era and yet timeless in its class divisions, its damaged veterans, its many cruelties, and the ordinary grace that helps people transcend those hurts. The boys discover sex, pity, regret, and how inadequate adults can be. They look to two guides: their minister father, who feels a little like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and their father’s alcoholic but well-meaning war buddy. The boys’ high-strung, musically talented mother is an important part of the story, although she’s not very helpful or empathetic. Their older sister, already a composer, is the solid female figure in their lives, and yet she’s been weeping and sneaking out at night.
I realized within pages this would be one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. The gathering threat and its consummation are satisfying and meaningful. This is an intelligent and compelling story told with great heart. I’ve already passed it along to two family members, both of whom devoured it. A perfect book club read, truly a book to love and read more than once. Absolutely recommended.