Book Club, Contemporary, Fiction

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Another old book club selection from December, not my pick, but one I think I’m glad I’m read. I don’t know. Two months later and I still can’t decide how I feel about it.


From the publisher marketing:
Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. 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.

The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism.

Click on this graphic to explore the book page on LibraryThing!


This book is the one that led to my book club epiphany. If I’m the one running book club, I’m the one having the final say over the books chosen. The last few were ones that I didn’t feel any inclination towards, I simply wasn’t opposed to them, and so I let them pass. Then book club moved stores, only two of the original members moved with me, and then we stuck with books that none of us really wanted to read, which is no fun. BUT. I have wanted to diversify my reading, and reading a book by a Native American author seemed like a thing I should do.

This was also my first pandemic book, in the sense that it is the first work of fiction that I have read the is set in the real time of the pandemic. Which is weird. I’ve read memoirs and stories about people’s real lives, but it so far had not permeated into my fiction choices. It’s weird. There’s no other way to say it.

The Sentence is almost overwhelmingly real. As in, Louise and her bookstore are in the book, as is the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, and countless other touchstones of the past three years. Which is, again, so weird. For me, I read fiction to escape the real world. It was like my refusal to read a book about climate change in book club’s previous iteration, I don’t want to read about something that actively causes me such much undue stress already. The news is for that, and as a self professed news junkie, there is no escaping it.

It was also, again, a book in first person. I know, I’m probably sounding like a broken record at this point, but I don’t particularly care for a book in first person. And I didn’t really think it was necessary to the story telling here as it was in other books I’ve read in the past six months that also were written in first person. (There are only so many hours in the day and millions of books, I have to narrow my choices down somehow).

I didn’t particularly care for Tookie, the main character, at the beginning – she did grow on me, but if I hadn’t needed to lead a discussion on the book, I definitely would have abandoned it. It felt like the pacing was all over the place (again, back story pretty quick, the focus was on a single calendar year so I do get it, I just didn’t like it), and I didn’t really feel like Tookie was the most interesting character in the story, so I lamented having only her point of view. Her husband’s daughter was far more interesting to me and I would have loved to have a bit more insight into who she was and what motivated her.

At the end of the day, it was all a bit too real – the struggles and stressors of 2020 were not ones that I particularly wanted to relive and I felt that the description of the story didn’t accurately convey what the book actually focused on.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Click this image to visit the book page on my Bookshop page!

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