27 December 2021

Review: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

A book set in an independent bookshop in Minneapolis, with a ghost? Sign me up!! Louise Erdrich is a native American author and Pulitzer Prize winner and The Sentence is my first time reading any of her work.

All Souls' Day is a day for commemorating and honouring the dead, and The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day in 2019 and takes us through a year of bookshop employee Tookie's life, ending on All Souls' Day in 2020. Tookie is a likeable native American character although her backstory didn't seem (to me) to chime with the direction of the story. Here's a sample of her voice though:
"I have a dinosaur heart, cold, massive, indestructible, a thick meaty red. And I have a glass heart, tiny and pink, that can be shattered." Pages 251-252
The reader accompanies Tookie as she navigates this troublesome year, but there's no real sense of an overarching purpose to what we're reading. The issues are up to the minute current, however the 'year in the life' seemed to be the only unifying story arc.

Having said that, there are many quotable moments in The Sentence and there's much here for book lovers to get excited about. Daily tasks in the bookshop, interesting and compelling customers, reading references we can all relate to (many of us have our own 'hard stack' and 'easy stack' of books waiting to be read), book lists (catnip for readers) and the overall power of books and stories for people navigating the Black Lives Matter movement or enduring isolation and lockdowns in the midst of a pandemic.

I loved Tookie's description of one of her customers she refers to as Dissatisfaction:
"By way of the fact he was impossible to please, Dissatisfaction was one of my favourite customers. He was always in a hurry and wanted me to drop everything. He is one of the cursed, a Tantalus, whose literary hunger perpetually gnaws but can never be satiated. He has read everything at least once. As he began reading capaciously at the age of six, he is now running out of fiction. I love the challenge of selling books to him and tried first, as usual, to interest him in history, politics, biography. I knew he would not accept anything but fiction, but this was a chance for him to vent anxiety over what he might read next. He snarled and swatted aside my factual offerings." Pages 97-98
Despite these gems, overall, I guess I felt disconnected from this free form narrative. I generally prefer more structure to my plots than 'here's what Tookie experienced in a crazy year we've all recently experienced from a thousand different perspectives'. Naturally Tookie's perspective is different from my own, but perhaps I just couldn't engage with Tookie on the deep level many other readers seemed to have reached while reading The Sentence.

I really think books like The Sentence will improve with age and distance from the events it covers. Readers in 20-30 years who don't have a living memory of the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and the beginning of the pandemic will be reading with interest, while I read in recognition.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

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