Friday, January 28, 2022

The Sentence

The Sentence / Louise Erdrich
NY: Harper, c2021
387 p.

I read this last year and it was one of the best of the year for me. As promised, I'm finally getting around to sharing my thoughts on it! 

I'll always read a Louise Erdrich book, without even having to know anything about it. But this one was especially interesting. Written during and about the pandemic, it has an immediacy to it, an urgency that overrides her usual considered pace and tells the story in a rush, with lively contemporary characters. I loved it. 

There have been a few books I have seen lately set during the early months/year of the pandemic, but this is the only I've read that feels natural and life-like. Erdrich has a good sense of character and of course a very skillful style, so the book moves forward smoothly and naturally.

It starts with Tookie, a woman who survived years of imprisonment by reading intensely -- and now that she is out of jail, she's found a job at a Minneapolis bookstore run by 'Louise'. Tookie is a complex and many-layered character, and somehow she made a connection with Flora, a former regular at the bookstore. Flora has died, but she hasn't left the bookstore. At first Tookie is the only one to realize it but the other employees eventually notice as well. 

Tookie's marriage and relationship with her step-daughter are also complex, and lovingly described. She is a real book person, and I appreciated her interactions with varied customers -- those are the kind of book discussions I love to have as a librarian, with our patrons. But Tookie also has many repressed issues to manage as a woman, an Indigenous person, a wife and mother, and from her own childhood. She's also quite sarcastically funny, which makes her a wonderful character I couldn't get enough of.

Tookie's journey would have been enough for a story, but add in the bookstore haunting, her intriguing fellow employees and their stories, the vital role of books, and of course the appearance of the Pandemic and months of panic and isolation, as well as the explosive political moment of Black Lives Matter, and this book is bursting with deep ideas to explore. As the publisher's write-up starts, "The Sentence asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book." I think that sums up the intensity of the storyline, which is aided by the strong writing and the vital, breathing characters. 

A bonus is the seven page reading list shared at the end. If you love books and believe in the power of reading, and are looking for a novel for our moment, this one is highly recommended. 


  1. I've heard really good things about this one!

  2. I also enjoyed this novel and thought Erdrich handled the pandemic part of the storyline really well.

    1. I agree -- one of the best I've seen so far.

  3. I need to get my hands on this one!!

  4. This is on my tbr list and I enjoyed your review. I'm waaaay behind on her novels, but I loved The Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse and of course, Love Medicine!

    1. I have a few in the middle there to catch up on myself.


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