Louise Erdrich follows her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Night Watchman, with another perspective on Native American culture and its ties to the spirit world. Tookie, a bookstore clerk with a prison record, finds herself haunted by Flora, a customer who mysteriously died while reading a book about a nineteenth century Indian woman. As ghostly incidents mount, Tookie becomes convinced that it was the book that killed Flora.
The Sentence is packed with character gems, from a rebellious daughter transformed by motherhood, to a cranky bookstore customer for whom reading is his lifeblood, to a young man who believes himself the descendent of an immortal spirit.
There are gems of writing as well:
“The sky was so gray it matched the cool bark of the trees.”
“The dress rattled in a friendly way.”
“We skied weightlessly through the days as if they were a landscape of repeating features.”
Other observations show how Tookie’s vocation mirrors a vanishing American culture: “Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism.”
There’s so much to like in this novel of marriage, family, and conflict. Erdrich even manages to weave into her story the COVID pandemic, the George Floyd murder, and the 2020 Presidential election.
It’s a shame that this superb novelist has contaminated The Sentence with pervasive foul language. It reflects negatively on her characters and on herself. For that reason, I must downgrade this captivating book to a three-star rating.