Recently Read: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Well, that was not what I was expecting!
I just finished The Sentence by Louise Erdrich and I am trying to figure out what I think about it.
I have read two of her novels before and while I really liked one, I was less enthusiastic about the other. I was incredibly moved by The Round House and appreciated her approach to the subject matter of a young man seeking justice/revenge after the rape of his mother. It was powerful, poignant, frustrating and it left me impressed with her style. The next book I read of hers was her dystopian tale Future Home of the Living God. I wanted to like it more than I did. It was the story of a pregnant young woman who tries to make her way back to her birth mother while the world is ending. I am not a fan of dystopian novels, especially now as it feels like we are living in one, and while I rated it the same as I did for the Round House, it hasn't stayed with me in the same manner.
One of the things that I gravitated to in both of these books was how she centers all her work in the world of Indigenous American culture. And this book followed that pattern. So I was curious about it when I saw people raving on instagram despite the fact that the premise was one that I normally would have passed by- a ghost haunting a bookstore. It just sounded a bit too twee from that description. But I gave it a shot on their recommendations and on her work with The Round House.
So when I started listening to the audiobook, I was incredibly confused as it took us a while to get to that plot point of meeting this ghost. (Though the backstory of this ghost is pure genius- I really took to the concept of this absurd woman and her position in this store.) The book opens with us following the life of our protagonist, Tookie, as she is recounting her early life of misdeeds. One of these particularly shortsighted adventures earns her a stint in jail and it's upon her release that she finds herself working in an independent bookstore in Minneapolis from November 2019 to November 2020.
Now you may have more quickly tuned into the importance of that place and that time period than I did- it's where George Floyd lost his life to a policeman in an act of police brutality that engulfed the city and nation in civil unrest. Given that fact, I am impressed with all the elements Erdrich brought to bear on this story. This book is like one of those fireworks that launches with what you think is just one explosion but continues with waves of continual sparks, colors and surprises. I won't spoil anything for you, dear readers, but this is a book that moves in unique ways, pulling different plot points in to cover many themes, but the most central one is around the definitions of community and family.
I think that some of the plot points really excited and resonated with me. Seeing them discussed through Tookie's point of view offered a new vantage. But there were some aspects that I felt pushed the themes a bit too far ( the reveal of the child's father's history, is a particular example that stands out). Overall, I appreciate an ambitious novel that takes chances over a staid story that rehashes old material. This book is certainly not boring.