"A pitch-perfect, wonderfully evocative examination of violent loss... " Dennis Lehane
But I get it now.
We settle into New Bremen, MN in 1961. Frank and Jake Drum are two preacher's kids who are typical kids, wandering the town, doing yard work for their grandpa, getting ice cold root beers from the drugstore and just hanging out being kids. The novel is Frank the adult's memories of a summer of death that seemed to skirt around the boys until it finally clobbered them.
Initially, a little boy is killed in a train accident and everyone knew that Bobby was a little slow and probably didn't mean to be on the tracks at the time. Frank and Jake knew Bobby so it was close to home but not a big part of their reality.
After following the train tracks and ending up in an area known for homeless men, they encounter their second death of the summer: a homeless man who had passed on. They meet an Indian who was going through the pockets of the dead man, pointing out that he didn't need those things anymore.
The next death hits terribly close to home and threatens to destroy not just the Drum family but the Brandt (the wealthiest residents of the town) family as well.
This isn't a murder mystery. It's really just a recollection of Frank Drum on how he and his brother survived the summer. It's heartbreaking and sad but there is also optimism from the little brother, Jake, who seems to understand things about life that others fail to see. And Frank, not letting the deaths of anyone go unnoticed and not letting himself go unchanged by them.
"The dead are never far from us. They're in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all the separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air."