Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner Louise Erdrich released her latest novel, “The Sentence” on Nov. 9.
“The Sentence” follows a group of Native American booksellers in Minneapolis haunted by the spirit of their former customer Flora. It is narrated mostly by Tookie, a woman previously incarcerated for accidental body theft, as she navigates the world as a newly changed woman.
Tookie loves to read and loves to sell books. Her time in prison was spent reading the dictionary and any book she could get her hands on. Originally sentenced to life, she instead gets out in a decade and finds a job at an independent bookstore. Her sentence doesn’t stop when she is free; the past and present weigh heavy on her as the novel takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Black Lives Matter protests. Tookie tries to solve the mystery of the bookstore haunting while also struggling with what occurs in Minneapolis during 2020.
The novel completely immerses the reader into the events that took place during the beginning of the pandemic, toilet paper hoarding, obsessive hand sanitizing, and conversations with loved ones through doors. In some ways this is so recent that anyone who experienced 2020 will feel an odd kinship to the characters, as the experience of the pandemic is perfectly captured in their dialogue and behaviors. In other ways it is so recent that the detailed descriptions of the Black Lives Matter protests, deaths, and chaos are difficult to read about.
Tookie is an interesting character, at the beginning she isn’t very likable, is quick to judge, and lies to get what she wants. Despite this, I liked her. She has a lot weighing on her, literally at one point Flora’s spirit sits on her, yet fiercely loves her family and reading. Her development was my favorite part of the book, as she goes from unlikeable to a very sympathetic and loving character.
Throughout the novel it is mentioned that books are essential, a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more. In times of darkness, books can offer an escape and have the power to haunt us; this novel will certainly haunt me.
I would give “The Sentence” a 3.5 out of 5 stars.