Louise Erdrich – The Sentence

Louise Erdrich – The Sentence

It is just a favour that Tookie wants to do for her grieving friend, admittedly, a well-paid favour since stealing the body of the lately deceased boyfriend can solve all of Tookie’s financial problems. Of course, things turn out as they always do and the young woman is sentenced to sixty years of prison. A good lawyer can bring her out after only a couple of them and as she spent most of her time reading, she starts to work in a bookshop. With her partner Pollox, she seems to be back on the good track of life, but sorting out her personal life does not sort out the world around her. And when simultaneously the pandemic hits, when police violence against people of colour escalates and becomes a public issue and, additionally, when the bookshop is haunted by the ghost of a former customer, Tookie has to handle a lot which threatens to bring back the angry young woman she once was.

Louise Erdrich has written maybe THE novel of the moment. „The Sentence“ not only integrates several current events such as the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and America’s fragile state before the 2020 election, or questions of identity, but also mythological aspects, old stories told over generations and over continents, stories which have been around as long a mankind itself. It is also the account of one woman, a woman who made mistakes, who has not always been fair since she is strong-minded, but a woman who has the heart on the right side.

It is not easy to determine where to put the focus on when talking about the novel. It seems to be eclectic, yet, this is just like life itself. It feels overwhelming at times with all the things happening at the same time, conflicting narratives which make it hard to make sense of all around you.

What I liked best was how the pandemic was integrated into the story. The author well incorporated everyday questions – why are people bulk buying? how dangerous will the virus be? what will happen to the bookstore? – into the plot, not giving it too much room but authentically showing how it affected life. This is also where we see Tookie’s good heart when she worries about her customers and tries to find ways of providing them with further reading material.

The side line of the ghost was first a kind of gothic element but it ultimately triggers the question of identity. Tookie belongs to the indigenous population, which is simply a fact, yet, one that has a huge impact on the way her life went. With it comes the big question of racial appropriation which seems so easy to answer but actually isn’t always.

The protagonist craves normal in a time when nothing is normal. It is a year of a chain of nightmares that finally closes. “The Sentence” is also a book about how literature can provide an escape and possibly also answers when reality does not anymore.

Towards the end of a year, an absolute literary gem with a wonderful annexe.

Dave Eggers – The Every

Dave Eggers – The Every

After the company “The Circle” took over the Internet, it bought an online retailer named after a south American jungle to also operate online buying and selling. With the new name “The Every”, Mae Holland can now control large parts of the people’s every-day life. Delaney Wells has done a lot to become a part of The Every, yet not out of fascination for the company but because she is seeking revenge. The company is too strong to be attacked from the outside, she needs to get inside to destroy it. Together with her roommate Wes, she develops a strategy: making more and more absurd suggestions for apps so that people see what the company is really after. However, their idea does not work, instead of being repelled, people eagerly embrace the new ideas which limit their lives increasingly.

I was fascinated by Dave Egger’s novel “The Circle” a couple of years ago. “The Every”, the second instalment, shows the mission to destroy what he has created. Delaney Wells is a clever and courageous protagonist who consistently follows her goal. Yet, the novel could not fully meet my expectations, it was a bit lengthy at times and the developments were quite foreseeable.

Delaney’s strategy of proposing ever more absurd apps to control people – which words they use, rating their interaction with others and their capacity of being a “friend” – push the development further and further. The line of argumentation that The Every uses is quite convincing: who wouldn’t prefer to live in a safe place where people use words which do not create bad feelings in others, who wouldn’t like to be a better person and most of all, who wouldn’t be willing to abstain from harming behaviour to protect nature?

Eggers just goes one step further and shows how the characters fall prey to the traps which actually are quite obvious. However, this is what they want since it makes life easier. They do not have to make decisions anymore, everything is foreseeable and in good order. Thinking for yourself is exhausting, so why not hand it over do the company? Even though this aspect is well established, I could have done with less apps, the twentieth invention does not add any new aspect to the plot.

A small group of anarchists tries to resist, yet they are too weak and the intellectuals are not heard. Wes’ development throughout the plot, unfortunately, is also very predictable, I would have preferred some surprises here. Eggers certainly can to better than just use well-known set pieces.

The idea is great and the protagonist is well-created but the author could have made more out of it. Some scenes – Delaney’s trip to the ocean and the aftermaths – are brilliant as is the line of argumentation that the company uses to manipulate. Yet, it is a bit lengthy and unoriginal in its progress.