The year 2020 was the year that, somehow, still is. Thinking back it was full of a lot of things Covid-19 and race riots and the pandemic and mass unemployment and the Coronavirus so as incident piled upon deaths and fear the outlook was kind of bleak at times. But if you lived in Minneapolis and were Native American and worked in a bookstore and were haunted then … oh dear. That’s what Erdrich dealt in her life and deals with in The Sentence.
by Louise Erdrich
2021 / (395 pages)Read b
read by author 11h 45m
Rating: 8.5 women’s fiction
This book opens with an event which happened several years prior to the main events of the novel but everything connects up. This is mostly the story of Tookie, a bookstore clerk in Minneapolis, who works in a bookstore.owned by Louise who is an author often away on book tours. (See https://birchbarkbooks.com ) She’s happily married but she is also convinced that she’s haunted.
The bookstore specializes in Ojibwa/Sioux and other Native American literature but it seems they sell all kinds. Regular customers are family and friends and Tookie is personally involved with many as well as serving them as customers. There are other customers and friends, too, of course.
But one day, still in 2019, Flora, a good friend and customer, is found dead at home, a book open in front of her. After the immediate mourning Tookie notices a certain “presence” around the store and even in her own home. Flora wasn’t actually Indian (as far as Tookie knew), but she was very much a part of the scene and loved Native culture and literature.
In the store there is a “confessional” which was found at a salvage store. Pen, an artistic employee, decorates it. Flora apparently visits Pen in the confessional, but Pen is exposed to a lot of glue there – does she really sense Flora – because Pen mentions that she is hearing movement too. And then, right on time, comes the Coronavirus aka Covid-19.
The Sentence becomes about many things, family and love and literature and history and Native identity and superstitions and police brutality. And then there’s the year 2020. Oh, and ghosts. And babies. And the value of storytelling.
I think Erdrich had more on her plate than she could really handle well. But all the pieces are so promising that don’t let’s throw them out just because a bigger story has landed. Sometimes life’s like that. And there are lots of deaths, too. But Erdrich is very skilled and manages the flow and tension of the stories and themes without winding up with a jerky narrative. And they are beautifully interwoven building to a very satisfying ending.
Fwiw, Erdrich’s father was native Chippewa and her mother was 1/2 German and 1/2 French. The family had 7 children who were raised Catholic and lived close to the reservation and extended family members.