Cover Image: The Sentence

The Sentence

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Member Reviews

The Sentence is about the sentence that the main character, Tookie, serves in prison. How Tookie lands in prison is really funny but also really sad and her story tells you a lot about Tookie. The book is also about a sentence that might have literally killed one of the customers of the bookstore in which Tookie works after getting out. Tookie feels that she's in danger from the ghost of this customer, and maybe in danger from the sentence herself.

Names and words are important in this book. Tookie, unfortunately, isn't even sure of her own real name and has sort of a "porous" personality. She feels wondrously fortunate at leaving prison and then finding a man and a job that both make her happy. She feels keenly the transience of happiness and that's also a theme of the book.

One of the things I loved reading was the author's love letter to bookstores that's such a big part of the novel. Louise Erdrich owns a bookstore, the one that The Sentence's bookstore is modeled on, and so much of the description of the store felt familiar to me. I was fortunate to work in an independent bookstore for about 10 years and the feel of the store, relationships with co-workers, customers, and the sense of mission to your community as a bookstore employee all rang true.

There's so much to unpack. Erdrich writes from her Indigenous perspective and has put in a lot about how Indigenous people are viewed and how tired they are of common stereotypes into this book. This is also a book about the pandemic. The bookstore, its employees and its patrons all must figure out how to live differently in the pandemic, how to live and how to make a living. Then there are the George Floyd protests. The book goes from a wry tongue-in-cheek slice of life to trying to describe earthquaking events that are impossible to make sense of. This was the part of the book that brought tears to my eyes.

At the end of the book, it all comes down to the relationship between Tookie and Flora the bookstore ghost. I confess I wasn't entirely clear on how this played out at the end because I was probably reading faster than I should have. You know how it is when you're getting to the end of a book you really like and your reading momentum goes faster and faster. I guess I'll just have to read this book again, which is no hardship.
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The story unfolds slowly but grips the reader immediately. Louise Erdrich tells the story in a narrative style that fells like very natural and flows in a way that made me feel like she was speaking it instead of writing it. Reading The Sentence while living in Minneapolis is a bonus as I was able to picture the setting easily. 

NetGalley provided an ARC of The Sentence which will be published on November 9, 2021.
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After The Nightwatchman not living up to the hype for me, I wanted to give this book a shot to see if another Louise Erdrich book would suit me better. I did like this better than night watchman, but  I think that his author is just not for me. A lot was happening here and though it happened in linear time, I felt like the story bounced around a lot and I had trouble following where we were going with it. It is a book about things that happened in the Year 2020, so a lot WAS going on but i felt a little shell shocked.
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A ghost haunting in a small-town book store in Minneapolis leads protagonist and book-shop seller, Tookie, to uncover what the living owes to the dead. Set from November 2019 to November 2020, Louise Erdrich explores Tookie's character and development after ten years of incarceration. This narrative follows the tragedy of 2020 from pandemic to police brutality and the fear that society has had to collectively live through and, somehow, overcome. 
I was a bit resistant to this book because of my own struggle to read books (and watch movies and TV shows) during the pandemic (escapism, thankyouverymuch); however, reading this book two years after the start of the pandemic, allowed me to reflect on our own experiences through the lens of Tookie's character. Erdrich creates flawed characters, incorporates indigenous culture and practices, and highlights the extreme circumstances we were dealt with as a society. This is an important book as a historical marker and as a witness of what we lived through collectively. Excellent book.
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Another beautiful book written by Louise Erdrich - highly recommend for those who like humorous ghost stories/mysteries taking place in a bookstore.
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I love Louise Erdrich, but this book just didn't grab me. The premise sounded amazing, and I'm sure it's a great book, but it just wasn't for me.
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I really wanted to like this book and I did at the beginning. The main character, Tookie, was enjoyable to read about. She loves books, works in a book store, was incarcerated for ten years, and is haunted by one of her patrons who passed away. All of these things kept me engaged, but then a little over halfway through, the main storyline was pushed to the background, and instead, I had to read about 2020 and I just really lost interest. I had to force myself to pick it up and read. I just felt like the book tried to be too many things at once and if she had stuck with the first half of the story, I would have enjoyed it more.
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This book was a bit difficult to read, but the writing style captivated me. It was the first (but I'm sure not the last) realistic fiction title I've read with references to so many of the events we've encountered in the last two years, especially COVID. I'm interested to see how this genre is impacted by such a globally transformative event. Thank you, as always, to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC!
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What is the Sentence that shapes the plot of the book?  Erdich begins her story in a most unexpected way with the tale of how the haunting of Tookie at Birchbark Books (which is the name of Erdich's bookstore in Minnesota) began.  The story is an interesting one and  Erdich is not as pedantic as she has been in other books.  Tookie is an interesting character and the various people in the book ring true. Erdich is a wonderful writer and very insightful.  Lovers of book stores, ghost stories, and Native American lore will be thrilled to read this book.
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A haunting, slow-paced story about trying to return to life after imprisonment.  Some of Louise Erdich's best writing.
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This is a big novel filled with love and ghosts in the time of COVID and also protests in Minneapolis. I loved that its filled with book suggestions for future reads thanks to Tookie's recommendations to customers (as well as from Ehrdich's list at the end).

Erdrich brings to life some wonderful characters in contemporary Minneapolis, as they live through the days of COVID and the unwanted attentions of a book loving ghost. This is a book about hauntings, not only by the former customer that haunts the book store but all the many things that haunt us from our past and present. This is also about indigenous people living in the current times in Minneapolis.

Erdich is a thoughtful writer that leaves us pondering sentences and passages in her book. I want to read slowly so that I can dig deeper into the myriad of meanings that are transformed with the shift or tweak of a word .

Many thanks to Netgalley and Harper for a thought provoking read.
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I had not picked up an Erdrich is a LONG time, and this book made me wonder why that was. Set in modern day twin cities, this fiction story (that somehow also delightfully includes the author as a character)  is set in a magical, mystical independent bookstore with a cast of characters that I'll be thinking about for a long time. The store's most challenging customer has died, George Flloyd was murdered in the book store's neighborhood, and the employees are left reeling and trying to cope. Tookie, our main character, is an excon, feels haunted and must reconcile what's happening in her neighborhood, in her bookstore, and in her personal life. These characters and this story is sharply drawn and unforgettable.
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This was a very interesting book. It provided insight into Louise Erdrich, her bookstore & life from the view of a woman working in the store -- who also has a rich backstory. For those of us living in the NY metro area, it was pleasantly eye-opening to realize that Native Americans have a strong presence in Minnesota--and probably throughout the midwest. For the book to incorporate life with the pandemic, and the summer of George Floyd...made it even more personally compelling.
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After incarceration for years, Tookie is married and working at a bookstore. From All Soul’s Day 2019 through 2020, she struggles through the pandemic and a haunting by a former customer, holding close to the people she loves. Interesting and insightful point of view. Love, relationships, and the power of books.
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A haunting story, not just because of the ghost. The setting was so familiar and fresh. Reading about 2020 events was almost too soon, but the story never goes over the top.
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Louise Erdrich catches the essence of two things: the feeling of Birchbark Books, her bookstore in Minneapolis; and the tensions and emotions in Minneapolis after George Floyd's murder.
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It is difficult to write a review of this beautiful book because I usually write after I've finished reading.  I have finished The Sentence, but it is still haunting me.  It's not finished with me.  And I admit to the suspiciously easy use of the term “haunting,” in a review about, in part, a ghost.  I feel it is the only word to use here, though.  I wish I were a master stylist like Erdrich, that my words and sentences would re-animate history, punctuate and make unforgettable crucial images and action.  

There, I hope I'm done with all the stolen uses of “sentences,” etc., but no promises. Because  reading this book made me long to have the talent of this consummate writer.  Erdrich must be a consummate observer, too, for much of this novel is set in an independent bookstore featuring Indigenous material. (And as most readers know, Erdrich, part Ojibwe, owns a book store in Minneapolis.)  Her novel's characters are so well-drawn; they become vibrant people we “like” as book reviewers often say, or people we would love to have in our own lives.  Tookie, the protagonist, is a convicted felon blossomed through intense reading in prison into a caring woman, married to a wonderful partner Pollux. Her love of books leads to a job at a book store, cannily owned by “Louise.”  

After a few years there Tookie becomes the employee former customer Flora, who died on Old Souls' Day, most enjoys irritating.  Many of these spectral encounters are slyly funny, though Tookie's desire to know Flora's reason for inhabiting the bookstore brings our protagonist to difficult encounters with her own past.

Our past, specifically 2020 and more broadly all American history, is also interrogated.  George Floyd's murder and other Black Lives Matter truths, the genocide of native peoples, the grief and depression accompanying the Covid pandemic, violence, trauma, shame.  How do we who are still living “live” with this?  The Sentence shows us that literature -- what it bring out and how it brings together – is one very good answer.
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What could be better than a ghost haunting a bookstore ??
Filled with all the elements of Erdrich, you won’t be disappointed.
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Erdrich is a fabulous writer who always develops interesting characters and I was looking forward to diving into this book. Perhaps it was just my expectations, but I was expecting something completely different. While I did enjoy the book and will recommend it, I will do so in a far different way than I originally thought. I had no idea that the pandemic would take up so much of the second half of this story and didn't realize until then how not ready I was to encounter it in what I thought would be entertainment.
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The Sentence may not yet be Louise Erdrich’s most celebrated work – her backlist includes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners – nevertheless this latest novel is an immersive, impactful, politically astute, love-drenched, subtle, often comic work which touches deftly on many important issues, from books and Indigenous lives, to death and hauntings.

Death indeed enfolds the story which opens with central character Tookie’s fateful choice to help a friend dispose of a corpse. This act leads swiftly to her arrest, trial and incarceration for a decade, but also, subsequently, to her rebirth as a bookshop worker devoted to literature and to a relationship with Pollux, the Native policeman who arrested her.

Later, the reader may feel this semi-prologue , with its focus on prison and despair, doesn’t seem quite in step with the rest of the novel, the larger part of which is devoted to Tookie’s community of workers, customers and family in Minneapolis. (Erdrich herself owns Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in that city, and this is where Tookie works, with Erdrich making modest appearances.) The novel’s proper heart and tone emerge here, in a broad, inviting portrait of Native American lives at work and play, and later grappling with Covid and the murder of George Floyd. The melodramatic opening may introduce appropriate themes but could conceivably belong to a more insistently nightmarish tale.

Nightmares do occur later in The Sentence, notably in what it reveals of racism’s long and continuing history and the abuse of minorities, but the prevailing tone is snappy and upbeat. At the plot’s forefront is Flora, a customer of the bookstore who dies but then returns to haunt the shop generally and Tookie in particular. Flora’s undead state connects to questions about the co-existence between racial groups and also the deathless continuity of wrongdoing, and remembering. Glimpses of historical artifacts and personal anecdotes elsewhere also inject horrific glimpses of the past which bleed directly into the relationship between Tookie and Flora.

Tookie, neither small nor pretty – ‘I am an ugly woman,’ she tells us – is a fine mouthpiece for this story of history, legacy, determination and unsubdued spirit. Her relationship with Pollux offers a steady drumbeat of positivity and mutuality, and their domesticity adds a further, fruitful dimension, with its recipes and commentary on wild rice, soup, fry bread and more. Behind it lies another span of Native history, ranging from agriculture and geography to contemporary battles over pipelines.

Erdrich’s ease, wit and literary experience are on fine display in her generous, multi-layered tale, threaded with injustice and passion. The larger issues will not be resolved, but the personal dramas experienced by Tookie – with Flora, with Pollux, and with her complicated stepdaughter – reach solid and rightful conclusions. And then there’s a bonus final section to the book, in the form of Tookie’s literary recommendations. And what a knowledgeable reader she has become, her sub-headings including Perfect Short Novels (including work by Penelope Fitzgerald and Jean Rhys), Indigenous History, Non-Fiction and Poetry, and Sublime Books.

Add all this to the charm of its voice, the relevance of its content and the embracing warmth of its love story, and you have a big-hearted book by a national treasure.
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