It is a ghost story, a love letter to the written word, an exploration of Indigenous identity, an urgent response to a volatile and cataclysmic world. At once brutally realistic and weirdly metafictional, it burns with moral passion, brims with humor, and captivates with its striking and irresistible voice ... People’s capacity for change, their ability to transcend the limits of the sentences they receive, to exceed the sentences used to sum them up, to use the sentences they read and speak as portals onto a larger life and an avenue towards freedom, is one of Erdrich’s most moving ethical points here ... The Sentence, is a wonder, and Erdrich a writer of wonders.
The coronavirus pandemic is still raging away and God knows we’ll be reading novels about it for years, but Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence may be the best one we ever get. Neither a grim rehashing of the lockdown nor an apocalyptic exaggeration of the virus, her book offers the kind of fresh reflection only time can facilitate, and yet it’s so current the ink feels wet ... Such is the mystery of Erdrich’s work, and The Sentence is among her most magical novels, switching tones with the felicity of a mockingbird ... The great arc of [the] first 30 pages — zany body-snatching! harrowing prison ordeal! opposites-attract rom-com! — could have provided all the material needed for a whole novel, but Erdrich has something else in mind for The Sentence: This is a ghost story — though not like any I’ve read before. The novel’s ectoplasm hovers between the realms of historical horror and cultural comedy ... Moving at its own peculiar rhythm with a scope that feels somehow both cloistered and expansive, The Sentence captures a traumatic year in the history of a nation struggling to appreciate its own diversity.
Engaging ... The Sentence covers a lot of ground, from ghosts to the joys and trials of bookselling to the lives of Native Americans and inmates doing hard time. And that’s just the first half of the story, before the pandemic, before George Floyd. The novel gets a little baggy after a while, as Erdrich struggles to juggle multiple plotlines. But the virtues here so outweigh the flaws that to complain seems almost like ingratitude ... The Sentence is rife with passages that stop you cold, particularly when Erdrich...articulates those stray, blindsiding moments that made 2020 not only tragic but also so downright weird and unsettling ... There is something wonderfully comforting in the precise recollection of such furtive memories, like someone quietly opening a door onto a little slice of clarity ... The Sentence testifies repeatedly to the power books possess to heal us and, yes, to change our lives ... There are books, like this one, that while they may not resolve the mysteries of the human heart, go a long way toward shedding light on our predicaments. In the case of The Sentence, that’s plenty.
... a bewitching novel that begins with a crime that would seem to defy 'relatability' but becomes a practical metaphor for whatever moral felonies lurk unresolved in your guilty heart ... an incredibly bookish book. The layers of bookishness are dizzying: from the micro (one employee’s name is Pen) to the macro (the central mystery: Was Flora killed by a book?). This is a novel obsessed with the operations of running an independent bookstore: dealing with publishers, playing the Tetris game that is shelf space, packaging mail orders ... strange, enchanting and funny: a work about motherhood, doom, regret and the magic — dark, benevolent and every shade in between — of words on paper.
Darkly funny and wickedly brilliant ... Erdrich’s great gift is for creating fully realized, fully human characters in complex and satisfying relation to one another ... If you’d been wondering who was going to write the first Great American COVID-19 novel, you might not have guessed Erdrich, whose gifts of empathy and imaginative power aren’t the kind usually associated with hot takes on current events ... The Sentence must have been written at high speed, and the haste shows, but what the book loses in tidy plotlines and a satisfying resolution, it gains in urgency and inventiveness. Rising from last summer’s ashes and honoring its ghosts, The Sentence is the perfect book to read right now, an unpolished, intense, politically passionate, sorrowful, comic masterpiece.
Clearly having been written in the midst of the events that overtake its characters—the coronavirus and then the Twin Cities' eruption over the murder of George Floyd—the book has a sometimes disconcerting you-are-there quality, which can seem out of step with the story proper, though the events do amplify the novel's themes of social and personal connection and dissociation, and of the historic crimes and contemporary aggressions, micro and overt, perpetrated in the name of white supremacy. What does hold everything together here, fittingly enough in a novel so much of which takes place in a bookstore, is the connection made through reading; and one of the great charms of The Sentence for an avid reader is the running commentary on books—recommendations, judgments, citations, even, at the end, a Totally Biased List of Tookie's favorites.
Few novelists can fuse the comic and the tragic as beautifully as Louise Erdrich does, and she does it again in The Sentence ... No one escapes heartache in The Sentence, but mysteries old and new are solved, and some of the broken places made stronger. The Sentence, a book about the healing power of books, makes its own case splendidly.
... what strikes me the most about The Sentence, here as we prepare to enter the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, surrounded by loss, is how much time it devotes to the question of what we owe the dead, and whether we have failed to deliver ... What’s most surprising and lovely about this plot line, though, is how sweet its resolution is ... That seems to be what, in the end, we owe the dead in this book: acknowledgment of their sins and their virtues, respect to their bodies, and freedom for their spirits to go in peace.
Erdrich is the rare writer who can straddle the line between the real world and the spiritual seemingly effortlessly ... a love letter to the written word, to books, and to those who sell them. It’s also a chronicle of a tumultuous year. It’s a ghost story. It’s the story of how racism haunts America. It is all these things wrapped in a novel that is cluttered in the way a great bookstore is cluttered with treasures and little gems hidden behind every page.
... a deeply compelling, tragic, and at times darkly funny contemplation on language, books, systemic racism, and American life during the pandemic ... Tookie tells us her story, Erdich weaves in a broader message about systemic racism, but never in a way that feels awkward or unessential to the narrative ... In true Erdrich fashion, the novel ends with some hope after a long, harrowing journey through our country’s violent past and troubled present. Tookie is a powerful narrator, full of complexity and a capacity for redemption and love that carries the weight of this brilliant novel ... a deeply moving and satisfying read.
One of the thrills of reading The Sentence are the books Tookie (and presumably Erdrich) loves and recommends ... The pandemic and the murder of George Floyd are no mere plot devices—they are a reckoning ... filled with humor and humanity. Her characters ask life’s hard questions, usually coming out the wiser, and you might too.
In the racist trope of the unquiet Indian in modern American horror, the dead are violent by default and stuck in a kind of death match with the living. This is not what the dead do in Louise Erdrich’s writing. Nor does Tookie make Flora into a monster, even though she sort of was one in life. Instead, Erdrich’s fictional worlds bristle with the awareness that we are all ghosts-in-waiting and that the written word is a way to communicate with people both long dead and not yet born. This is how Erdrich can write a haunting story without invoking even the slightest hint of the gothic; how she blends contemporary politics with myth without breaking stride.
Erdrich’s latest novel unfolds over the course of one tumultuous year, and its persistent search for meaning reveals astonishing, sublime depths ... her narrative never loses its grip. As vast as its scope may be, The Sentence doesn’t feel overstuffed because Erdrich roots it in Tookie’s own longings, beliefs and challenges ... Erdrich’s prose, layered with unforgettable flourishes of detail—from the mesmeric spinning of a ceiling fan to the quest for the perfect soup—enhances and deepens this growing sense of a larger, collective haunting ... an imaginative, boldly honest exploration of our ever-evolving search for truth in the stories we both consume and create. It’s a staggering addition to Erdrich’s already impressive body of work.
Clearly having been written in the midst of the events that overtake its characters—the coronavirus and then the Twin Cities’ eruption over the murder of George Floyd—the book has a sometimes disconcerting you-are-there quality, which can seem out of step with the story proper, though the events do amplify the novel’s themes of social and personal connection and dissociation, and of the historic crimes and contemporary aggressions, micro and overt, perpetrated in the name of white supremacy. What does hold everything together here, fittingly enough in a novel so much of which takes place in a bookstore, is the connection made through reading, and one of the great charms of The Sentence for an avid reader is the running commentary on books—recommendations, judgments, citations, even, at the end, a 'Totally Biased List' of Tookie’s favorites. As she tells us: 'The door is open. Go!'
The Sentence feels like it started as one thing and was then overtaken by events, in particular the events of 2020. But despite that, Erdrich manages to bring all her narrative threads into a coherent whole ... The Sentence begins somewhat frenetically ... There is plenty to love about The Sentence. First and foremost, a deep and abiding love of small bookstores and the people who work there ... while it deals with some unpleasant recent events, it is anything but. Tookie is a resilient, self-aware character who loves life and loves books and whose narrative is barbed but layered with humour and hope. And while it feels like those real-life events overtook what may originally have been planned to be a slightly different narrative, well, that is life too. Erdrich chose not to ignore the real world but to explore how her characters respond to it, and in doing so she brings all of us who have experienced or witnessed the same events deeper into her story.
It's such an unassuming title (and one that sounds like it belongs to a writing manual); but, Louise Erdrich's latest is a deceptively big novel, various in its storytelling styles; ambitious in its immediacy ... An absorbing and unquiet novel, The Sentence, like the era we're living through, keeps us readers on the alert for the next improbable turn of events looming ahead of us ... I'd add The Sentence to the growing list of fiction that seems pretty 'essential' for a deeper take on the times we're living through.
... as timely as it is unexpected ... Tookie's voice is genuine and humorous, her perspective rich with history, literacy, and quietly simmering fury. Erdrich's fictional account of Tookie's pandemic experience, as singular and as universal as anyone's, resonates with strange and familiar detail, but doesn't blend consistently with her tale of the phantom Flora. The world-altering events of 2020 did not, of course, mesh tidily with the happenings of anyone's life, but for the purposes of following Tookie's journey, the many layers of The Sentence, expertly stacked though they are, begin to obscure one another as the novel goes on ... The literature grappling with these latest demons may still be imperfect, but the writing — and reading — is part of the exorcism.
Erdrich does many things well in this book — it is filled with vivid characters, naturalistic dialogue, and startlingly beautiful descriptions of babies and the natural world ... But it often feels as if she has written three or four separate sagas — a bookseller’s memoir, a family drama centered on Tookie, Pollux and their adopted daughter; a convoluted, overly symbolic ghost story; and a diaristic account of the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown and aftermath of Floyd’s murder — and smushed them together in one novel ... still deserves consideration because notwithstanding its flaws, it is an inextricable part of this brilliant writer’s 'one long sentence' and life’s work.
... [a] powerful, endearing novel ... The Sentence has an almost shocking immediacy, set as it is against the background of the Covid-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where Erdrich lives ... The joy of Erdrich’s novels lies in the way her characters live so richly, and are as present to the reader as our own friends and relatives are ... If the second half of the novel feels more chaotic than the first, why wouldn’t it? Erdrich is displaying the chaos of the moment as it occurs, and does so with astonishing grace ... The novel resolves in small moments of personal redemption and familial love, allowing for hope amid tragedy. Tookie’s courage and passion carry us; she is, throughout, a stalwart companion, facing hardship and aware of her own good fortune.
The first half of the novel is signature Erdrich and then some: righteously funny, magically eclectic, and refreshing in its moral clarity. But then 2020 happened, swelling up the book’s back half with scenes inspired by the pandemic, from its most mundane, panic-shopping details to its twin inflection point: the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer. Erdrich’s treatment of these moments reads as undigested. It reveals an author who believed — as many wanted to — that some seismic shift in race relations could not help but be underway ... The word 'urgent' is a favorite of book blurbers and reviewers. The Sentence has me rethinking its value ... Although Erdrich sometimes falls into saccharine narratives about people who love to read, she also gets to make some well-placed jokes about autofiction and give us a backdoor peek at herself, in critic mode ... Ultimately, the problem with The Sentence is not that it is set in 2020, but rather that it’s permeated by the false optimism that emerged in the face of multiracial protests, with feel-good resolutions and simplistic narratives about solidarity ... These letdowns are precisely what make The Sentence feel dated. I too wish that the sense of possibility palpable in the air last summer could come back and haunt us. Because the alternative is truly scary.
There are times when it seems like the events of 2020 will take over the novel, but Erdrich always brings the action back to the bookstore, its employees, and to Tookie ... Despite the heavy subject matter, The Sentence is not a heavy book. Tookie’s pessimistic sense of humor provides comic relief ... There are also lovely passages describing moments of deep emotion. This kind of writing can be risky, but Erdrich handles it deftly ... The writing throughout The Sentence is consistently masterful.
... richly textured ... Erdrich is ready for that closeup, as she’s always been when it comes to this part of American geography and history ... A landscape of its own, Erdrich’s writing seeks the bright shout of red in a street mural woven from Indigenous myths. It drapes stories over stop lights. It stocks up on beauty in convenience stores. Her granularity celebrates the gritty specific, ravenous for recipes handed down across generations and cultures (don’t get Tookie started on Pollux’s scorched rice), surfs the air waves for entertainment and solace, and reads deep into every word from which her literary encyclopedia of a mind has built this novel. That The Sentence can also be filed under Mystery, its plot arcane, twisted and life-restoring, confirms Erdrich at her best.
... is not—or not only—a fantastical portrait of inner life. It’s more like a room stuffed with ideas, history, big chunks of shorter novels, peripheral characters, and plots rolled up like carpets to lean companionably against the walls ... The ghostly subplot serves as a vehicle for Erdrich’s wit, and offers a pleasurable shot of spookiness ... full of amenable dialogue...It’s as if Erdrich is afraid to offend by presenting a vision of racism or rage or grief that’s unvarnished by charm, unbrightened by mischief. The jokes read as tiny mediations ... In places, it’s as if Erdrich is painting with a reader’s own memories, recursively pleating the confusion of fact and fantasy—how the two seemed to mingle in those months—into her fiction ... Other swaths of 2020-themed writing feel less convincing. Whether due to affection for her creations or a desire to uplift, Erdrich seems unwilling to raise more than the spectre of true hardship ... Racism shadows several characters, but its touch is too often whimsical or weightless, and their responses scan as generic, vague. (The same goes for disease, with a notable exception toward the end, when my favorite character fell ill, by which point I was so worn down by the novel’s fructose content that I prayed in vain for him to die)...Part of the trouble may be the documentary framing, which relieves Erdrich of the need to shape her material ... Unlike Erdrich’s short fictions, which have a beguiling strangeness, her novels tend to find their sweet spot in depictions of flawed, sympathetic characters, who earn their happy endings. It’s a register that jostles uncomfortably—at times, fatally—against the fraught subject matter ... Erdrich’s gifts—an intensity of honesty, a summoning of feeling that exhausts itself, deliriously, in images—are on full display here. The images reverberate because the feelings are true.
... an immersive, impactful, politically astute, love-drenched, subtle, often comic work which touches deftly on many important issues, from books and Indigenous lives, to death and hauntings ... Erdrich’s ease, wit and literary experience are on fine display in her generous, multi-layered tale, threaded with injustice and passion. The larger issues will not be resolved, but the personal dramas experienced by Tookie—with Flora, with Pollux, and with her complicated stepdaughter—reach solid and rightful conclusions. And then there’s a bonus final section to the book, in the form of Tookie’s literary recommendations ... Add all this to the charm of its voice, the relevance of its content and the embracing warmth of its love story, and you have a big-hearted book by a national treasure.
... at times amusing, tragic, poignant, uncomfortable, current, ageless, and unflinching in calling out injustice toward marginalized people in America ... The novel is powerful and blunt in educating its readers about the racist beginnings of Minnesota and surrounding regions ... This ambitious menu of intertwining items comes close to paying off fully, although periodic forays into lesser characters and overly generous details about daily life at times bog down the whole. The advent of Covid-19 appears late in the book and is worked effectively into the story, allowing Tookie to demonstrate if not discover her softer, caring side. Unfortunately, the horrific murder of George Floyd that follows is introduced late enough in the book that it feels almost shoehorned in, and the portion of the story left before book’s end isn’t quite adequate enough to weave its enormity into what began as Flora’s light ghost tale. Still, most of the book works very well, and Erdrich has once again delivered a richly painted story that examines the best and worst of humankind, doing so with objectivity, heartache, faith, and generosity.
The many-hued, finely patterned weave of Erdrich’s funny, evocative, painful, and redemptive ghost story includes strands of autobiography and even cameo appearance ... The story of Tookie’s body-snatching caper and subsequent horrifically long sentence is hilariously ludicrous and heartbreaking; the tale of how reading saved her life in prison is deeply affirming ... Erdrich’s insights into what her city experienced in 2020 are piercing; all her characters are enthralling, and her dramatization of why books are essential to our well-being is resounding.
A scintillating story about a motley group of Native American booksellers haunted by the spirit of a customer ... More than a gripping ghost story, this offers profound insights into the effects of the global pandemic and the collateral damage of systemic racism. It adds up to one of Erdrich’s most sprawling and illuminating works to date.
[Erdich] turns her eye to various kinds of hauntings, all of which feel quite real to the affected characters ... The novel’s humor is mordant ... Erdrich’s love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism. A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.