The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is a wonderful story. It is a difficult story at times since it is set during the early stages of the pandemic and includes the killing of George Floyd. In addition to these happenings which touched us all, there is at the heart of the novel a family – Tookie and her husband, Pollux, his daughter, Hetta and her new baby, Jarvis. It is through Tookie’s eyes that we see what is happening. Tookie is a fascinating character all on her own. She has spent time in prison for transporting a dead body which turned out to have drugs stuffed in his armpits. When she was arrested, it was Pollux who brought her in. As he says, he arrested her and he married her (after she had served her time.)

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons I enjoyed the book is that part of it is set in a bookstore. I enjoy visiting bookstores in fiction almost as much as in person. Interestingly, Erdrich has written herself as a character in the novel and the owner of the bookstore which she is in real life. The fact that she is an owner makes everything she writes about the bookstore authentic including phone calls during the early months of the pandemic, shipping books or having them picked up curbside. The other fascinating thing about the bookstore is that it is haunted by the ghost of one of their customers. At first, only Tookie feels and hears the presence of the ghost, but later, others are able to know when Flora is there. We have “ghost boy,” but he hasn’t made an appearance in quite a while.

One of the most touching sections is when Tookie is walking and surveying the area after the protests: “I passed burnt-out stores with walls like broken teeth…I passed a woman with a shopping cart full of children…Pockets of peace, then full-out soldiers in battle gear…Minneapolis had been caught by surprise, but now the response had hardened.” She also saw small devotional shrines and flowers hanging off fences. She thought if it would only rain, it would put an end to the violence. But it didn’t rain and at night, “Journalists tased, arrested, gassed, beaten. Journalist with an eye shot out.”

We revisit the early stages of the pandemic when no one knew for sure what to do and how to protect themselves. Tookie was especially concerned for baby Jarvis and keeping him safe. It is strange to read about circumstances that we all have so recently lived through, but I am glad that Erdrich and others have written about it in fiction. I think we need to keep this time in our memories and fiction can help us do that better than statistics.

The Sentence is published in hardcover by Harper and retails for $28.99.

The Sentence is published in hardcover by Harper and retails for $28.99.