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.