The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
2020 is a bastard of a year the whole world will remember forever. This new novel by Pulitzer Prize & National Book Award-winning Anishinaabe Author Louise Erdrich takes place on All Souls Day '19 to All Souls Day '20...in Minneapolis, MN.
What I love about the author's stories is that they are in familiar territory. Minneapolis. It's just lips-pointed north of where I live. I love Minneapolis. This book is unapologetically Minneapolis.
But first, the story begins with Tookie. She doesn't know her full name either. It's just Tookie. She's a self-proclaimed City NDN who has a knack for being a hustler. Ya know----'cause ya gotta do whatcha gotta do...even if it involves stealing a corpse in a refrigerated truck in broad daylight. In the heat of the moment she does a friend a favor who has just won a huge jackpot at the casino and they're in the middle of a binge of a lifetime. The corpse is the friend's dead lover and she wants to give him a proper burial.
The deed is done. Tookie takes the check and runs. But, broad daylight doesn't provide a lot of cover. Tookie gets busted by Pollux the Cop. They have an apparent love history and he reluctantly has to take her in. Tookie is taken through the incarceration system of Minnesota where she is to spend the rest of her days in prison.
Now, The Sentence, is a play on words because she is sentenced by a judge who believes in an afterlife. Or, it's because an old mentor in Jackie gives her a Dictionary to read in prison. Tookie is bound in solitude to this book looking for the perfect sentence. This is the heart and soul of the story. Books saves lives.
When Tookie gets her sentence reduced, she is well read, Jackie gets her a job at a Native-owned bookstore in Minneapolis, and Pollux the Cop finds her and they shack up. Pretty good Happily-Ever-After?
No...Flora, one of Tookie's most annoying customers dies. And on All-Saints Day of 2019 she haunts the bookstore and seems to only bother Tookie. What follows is a smart, funny, and timely story taking place during the Pandemic and the George Floyd Murder & Riots.
What is awesome about this story is that it takes place in the real life Birchbark Books, which the author owns. I have been to this store. Here's the pic...(this is the worst photo, but there's something creepy about the spectral ray of light shining into the building.)
We meet a cast of dear Minnesotans that I wanted to spend more time with by the fire. The setting, I wanted to walk down Hennepin to eat at one of the dive bars. The description of the seasons changing was just perfect and made me long for a winter walk through the parks. Even during the time of the Riots, as the city burned, Pollux says that Minneapolis is a f-ed up town, but it's MY f-ed up town...Sentences like these are like gold in this story. The Epigraph says, that from birth-to-death every word said is part of one long sentence, Louise Erdrich has really outdid herself in this book! A masterpiece! Long after I read it, the meaning of The Sentence lingered.
Also, if it's overwhelming to know where to start on your reading journey for a better understanding of our world, Tookie provides a "Totally Biased List of Tookie's Favorite Books" that should help you out. All the more, making The Sentence, ESSENTIAL READING!
Minneapolis Masterpiece! -FL
Birchbark Books: https://birchbarkbooks.com/products/the-sentence