Cover Image: The Sentence

The Sentence

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Member Reviews

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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Erdrich’s (The Night Watchman) latest is something of a small divergence for the prolific author, both a gauzy ghost story and an entry in the emerging subgenre of pandemic literature. More specifically, it concerns hauntings: by our past (and sometimes even our present), by specters of our mortality, by the legacy of colonialism, by the ever-present violence of American society. Tookie, Erdrich’s latest memorable, hardscrabble protagonist, is a previously incarcerated woman who now works at a Minneapolis bookstore and who finds herself visited by the lingering spirit of her most difficult customer. This initial plot thread soon gives way to the twinned surrealities of COVID-19’s global stranglehold and the cultural reckoning that follows George Floyd’s death: as one character puts it, “What we’re living through is either unreal or too real. I can’t decide.” But while the narrative would at first seem to progress as if these elements were each a distinct narrative movement, Erdrich masterfully reveals an act of layering; Tookie’s story feels vertically stacked rather than linearly advanced, each beat informing and complicating and enriching the others. Thankfully, the novel’s charged material is never presented from a soapbox, and what ultimately resonates most is its pronounced celebratory spirit, particularly for bibliophiles.
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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

A woman haunts the bookstore of an indigenous woman.  Until the employees can solve the mystery of her unrest, she continues to visit them.  

I love the flawed and realistic characters.  This novel is wonderful and thought provoking.
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Tookie begins as a helpful but hapless character, one lost in the depths of her own addictions and difficult circumstances. After an almost slapstick crime and a fairly uneventful incarceration, Tookie is rescued by a bookseller and marries the officer who arrested her. All of this would be interesting enough, but then one of the book store's customers dies. 

Flora was a devoted customer and keen reader of Indigenous authors. She threw herself into Indigenous culture to an inappropriate, nigh uncomfortable level. And when she dies, she won't leave. Tookie remains haunted by Flora for some time, and while she is navigating the hazards of being followed by a persistent spirit, there are rumblings of illness and a new virus circulating around the world. 

It is eerie to read about the Covid-19 pandemic while still in the midst of it. And interesting to realize that the two books I read this year about the pandemic were by Native American authors (the other one was Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac). It made me think about whether authors with an Indigenous background would have a increased ability or need to process this ongoing trauma through literature. The whole experience was a strange one, reading about something that is still happening (but currently happening in a very different way than last year), and then also *remembering* these events in my own head: the warnings, the shutdowns, the protests, and so on. The entire experience was a strange combination of surreal mundanity.

But all in all, I liked Tookie. She's a hard worker, caring but awkward, and she doesn't hide too hard from difficult feelings (like the ones she has being married to a former police officer after the George Floyd murder). She was a compelling character to follow, her struggles with shaking off Flora were gently ominous, but when compared to the reality of the Covid-19 threat, it became hard to decide what was the bigger problem.

Tookie's relationships with her coworkers, customers, and step-daughter were all complex and engaging. This is not fast-paced, but it was both difficult and soothing to read about the ongoing pandemic.
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This story set in Minneapolis is one of my favorite Louse Erdrich tales. If you pick up this book assuming you’ll find a writing manual, you’re in for a big surprise.  Centering around Tookie, who in trying to help a good friend, hauls a dead body across state lines in a refrigerated food truck. Turns out the body has packets of cocaine taped under the corpse’s armpits. Tookie is arrested by a Native American policeman and is incarcerated for several years. She got her life together and moved to Minneapolis where she got a job in Erdrich’s bookshop, Birchbark Books. The storyline is wonderful, looking at current events from a Native American point of view as the characters deal with the pandemic and the death of George Floyd and its aftermath. Tookie marries Pollux, the policeman who arrested her. He along with Tookie, their foster daughter, and the employees at the bookstore give us a look at current events which hasn’t been well portrayed by the media. I’d add this book to a list people should read to understand current events. There’s a line in the book where Pollux, who had left the police force, tells about his grandmother who upon seeing her proud grandson in uniform, tells him not to let the uniform wear him. He wears the uniform. Pollux provides a figure who not only sees the Native American point of view but also sympathizes with law enforcement. Louise Erdrich appears as a minor character in the book, but because Birchbark Books is so close to where Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd, it provides a setting for helping readers see what was happening. If you belong to a book club in which the members enjoy seeing things from a different perspective, there will be fodder for much discussion.
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I began reading "The Sentence" over Thanksgiving and I'm glad I had several days to read Louise Erdrich's latest novel. Erdrich's writing is beautiful especially when discussing literature. It's set up like a collection of stories involving a haunting at Erdrich's bookstore, Birchbark Books. The main character is haunted by the most annoying character and has to find what it is that her spirit is lingering there for... was it for the last book she had or something else? 

My one disappointment in the book is the Covid storyline. I've tried to avoid many books and tv that involve Covid, mainly because we are still in the thick of it and I read to escape. However, the book is still worth reading and if I had known that I may had skipped it entirely.
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This was the first novel I've read set during some very recent events: the period of the pandemic, and the unrest following the murder of George Floyd. And it was just right. The storytelling style given to Tookie is idosyncratic, just a little unusual, but it really worked for me. It's a love story, a ghost story, and a prison story, but mainly it's a story about a bookstore and a complex woman who relates to others primarily through her work there. Interweaving the (presumably fictional) story of Tookie with so much reality—Louise Erdrich herself is a character in the book—means that it is easy for the feelings engendered by this novel for Tookie and her neighbors to translate into real concern for the non-fictional version of her community, and for Minneapolis, and for the world.
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I was surprised by this book, since it was billed as a sort of ghost story. That’s true, but it’s so much more. Tookie, an Ojibwe woman, works in a bookstore through most of the book, and there is a ghost there who seems intent on haunting her, in particular. What Tookie thinks about this, and how she deals with it in a Native American sort of way, is an important thread in the book.

However, the book takes place in 2020 and is infused with stories dealing with both Covid and the Floyd demonstrations in Minnesota. Erdrich’s light hand and almost whimsical writing contrasts with the gravity of the situation in a way that brings to life the disorientation of that year. There’s a depth of understanding portrayed, particularly in regard to how Tookie and her family view the response to police brutality toward African Americans, given their history with the police as Native Americans. What seems like a turning point in the American trajectory seems even more so because of this book.

At the same time that she deals with the big issues of the day, Erdrich touches on the personal as Tookie deals with her strained relationships with her daughter and her husband. The issues of communication and how to, or whether to, express what one feels deep inside resonate. 

The double entendre of the “sentence,” is very fitting as the book also deals with writing, its value, and books in general. Books are discussed, titles are shared, and there’s even a rather extensive list of Tookie’s favorite books in a variety of categories at the end of this book. There are many there that I will now search out and read.
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Louise Erdrich is perhaps one of my favorite authors.  She is a masterful writer and a chronicaler of Indigenous people.  this book was different in may ways.  Tookie and Pollux are amazing and engaging characters.  This was one of the more mystical Erdrich books I have read and I didn't always follow the reasoning behind Flora's haunting.
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There are books that refuse to leave, long after you’ve finished reading them. The Sentence is one of these. A multilayered story of perseverance, redemption, inequality, and responsibility, The Sentence is a ghost story and a love story but most importantly, the main character is Native American and thus, brings forth the injustices endured every day by minorities.  Written in the here and now, Erdrich addresses the ugliness that the human race continues to deal with (the pandemic) and perpetrate on one another (racism). The Sentence appealed to the bookworm in me, while shattering the comfort I can usually find in a book.
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4.5 rounded to 5

I was surprised at how funny a book on cultural identity and race relations all set during a pandemic could be. From the very first scene of criminal hijinks I knew that if Erdrich was going to take us to dark places that we would be okay if Tookie and Pollux were with us.

The Sentence is a beautifully written story of well crafted characters that feel like real people you could meet in your local bookstore or library, even Flora the ghost. And this book is also a poem to those who love stories and the places where those stories are kept- bookstores and libraries.

I will say that I thought the novel was disjointed. Loved the beginning set in Erdrich's own bookstore (and that she is one of the minor characters) and learning about the ghost haunting the stacks (which is more comical than spooky) but the transition to the George Floyd's protests would be better served if the connection between the two ideas was more apparent.
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This is a terrific novel. Erdrich does a masterful job of pulling the reader inside the world of the 
main characters, page by page. She deftly integrates the last summer's protests over police use force
with the real life experiences of her characters -- and also gives us the unvarnished perspective of 
indigenous Americans living in the Twin cities.
This is also a book-lover's book -- anyone who seeks to understand themselves and the world through literature will enjoy this novel.
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Author Louise Erdrich is beloved by so many and this is the first book of hers that I have read.  THE SENTENCE is Tookie’s tale from beginning to end and she is literate, entertaining, and completely unreliable.  Just when you think her tale cannot get any weirder, she beguiles you with an intimacy so raw and detailed that you wonder what all the other fluff was about.  Tookie begins in jail, punished for a crime she hardly acknowledges, and quickly finds herself working in a bookstore haunted by an unpleasant customer. In no time at all, she is married to her arresting officer and has formed a new, more normal life, except for the ghost, the Pandemic and the Summer of 2020.  This is a big messy book with a lot of heart.  I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
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Oh my! I absolutely loved this and am VERY enthused to see its star rise when it's published next month. The book takes place in Minneapolis (at a real bookstore, owned really by the real author Louise Erdrich!) over 2019 through 2020. The story is about a woman, Tookie, who serves a jail sentence for a crime she was set up for and didn't mean to commit, and is then released early -- marries her sweetheart -- and gets a job at said bookstore. She experiences a sort of annoying regular customer who dies and then proceeds to haunt the bookstore -- mostly, to haunt Tookie. Then COVID hits. Then George Floyd is murdered. Tookie's step-granddaughter comes home with a new baby. A manuscript is unearthed that helps Tookie make sense of the hauntings at her bookstore. 

There's so much to appreciate here. There's a COVID case too close to home, and the accompanying frozen panic of sleeping in a car in a hospital parking garage night after night. There's a ribbon of revolution running through the story, the response and outrage of the George Floyd murders from young people, and Native American people. There's the sweet relationship Tookie develops with a Black customer of the bookstore, a crotchety older very very avid reader, whom she delivers hand-picked selections to "curbside"-style. 

Reading this book was a gorgeous experience I will recommend to all my lit fiction lovers and to my book clubs too. Thank you Louise Erdrich! Thank you NetGalley and the publisher!
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When I started this book, I wasn’t sure how I felt. After chapter two and the farther I read, the more I loved it. Tookie is a Native American ex-con who is as complicated as you would expect. She works in a bookstore that is haunted by her most annoying customer. Tookie is far from perfect. She feels so human as she deals with life that has no easy answers. 

I loved the way Louise Erdrich included all that is happening in the country - the pandemic, the fight for social justice. She has such a distinct voice that drives the tone, revealing the thoughts and feelings of the characters. This is not a book to read lightly. After a few weeks, this book still hovers in the corners of my mind. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.
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With every book Louise Erdrich sets a bar higher than the last.  Although I found The Sentence slow going at the start, it lives up in every way to the best of her books.  As always, Erdrich's prose shines.  It's what elevates an absorbing story into a lyrical tale, one that touches one's heart and mind and insinuates itself into one's soul.  I can't wait to read whatever she publishes next.
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This was my first Erdrich and it certainly will not be the last. I didn't really know what to expect when I started, but I was completely hooked the entire way through. I'm going to be adding this to the staff recommends shelving at my library when it comes out. Our patrons will love it.
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The Sentence 
by Louise Erdich 
Pub. Date Nov/9, 2021 
Harper 
In this stunning and timely novel, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich creates a wickedly funny ghost story, a tale of passion, of a complex marriage, and of a woman's relentless errors.
This book didn't hit it off with me.  I am more of a library person and this is a bookstore book.  Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading with murderous attention, must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning. I was not ready to delve into the happenings in Minneapolis again. 
Thanks to Harper and Net Galley for the ARC. 
Not a hit for me. 
3stars
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This contemporary ghost story set in Minneapolis at the start of the pandemic has lots of different, interesting threads that come together in a sometimes darkly humorous but never scary way. It will make for a great book club book because there are so many things to discuss: Native American identity, systematic racism, the pandemic, books, and the meta way that Erdrich places herself as a character in the book.
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This novel is so complex, so current, and so passionate that it begs to be read and not just summed up in a review. One of my favorite things is the author has written herself and her real-life bookstore into the book! Parts of this story are difficult reading as it deals with the painful events in Minneapolis during the summer of 2020 but it also has ghosts, COVID, a possible werewolf, drugs, and some Native American history.

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for the ARC to read and review.
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