A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer, Flora. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration, must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and reckoning.
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.