Having seen announcements of Louise Erdrich books for some time on Amazon, Goodreads and in the New York Times, I decided that I should read one. I knew nothing about Erdrich’s connections to indigenous people and shame on me. The Sentence begins with a set up. Tookie, our main character, describes herself as solid and unattractive. She had to raise herself because her mother was addicted to drugs and was so often using that she had nothing to offer Tookie, which certainly explains Tookie’s lack of self-confidence.
Tookie answered a call from someone she had been close to and agreed to perform a task that every cell in her brain rebelled against. She did it out of a sense of duty owed to a pair of old friends. Her friends betrayed her. Tookie ended up sentenced to fifteen years in jail. There was no one on the outside to care about her except a tribal police officer named Pollux. But if you need someone to care about you Pollux is your man. He felt so guilty about arresting Tookie that he hovered nearby, and he even quit the tribal police force.
Love does wonders when it is a supportive force, as it is in Tookie’s life. She finds a job in a bookstore that specializes in native books and her love of books makes her invaluable to Asema, the owner. Penstemon also works at the bookstore. Obviously being an indigenous author opens up a wide range of interesting character names. Pollux attends native ceremonies, drums for the dancers and feeds everyone. All goes well until two complications arise. A customer named Flora dies, but for some reason she still hangs out at the bookstore every day. Tookie can hear her bracelets, her footwear on the floors, her silky clothing swishing. Sometimes Flora knocks books off the shelves in front of where Tookie is working. Since no one else can hear Flora Tookie at first says nothing, but after she finds a mysterious book that seems to have caused Flora’s death, Erdrich’s title takes on a new meaning. Tookie believes that when Flora read a certain sentence in the book it killed her. Tookie buries the book next to the tree that recently fell in her yard, but signs are adding up. Eventually the other two in the bookstore sense Flora’s presence.
The other complication that arises is the pandemic, the COVID pandemic, which has the bookstore busier than ever with mail orders. But Tookie cannot work in the shop alone, the sense that Flora wants something from her is too menacing. Does it have anything to do with the fact that Flora has adopted an indigenous heritage when she is not indigenous at all? Between being unable to visit Pollux, sick with COVID and in the hospital, trying to forge a better relationship with Pollux’s daughter and her new baby boy, and the terror she is beginning to feel whenever Flora makes her presence known in the bookstore, Tookie is having a difficult time holding on to the sanity she found in her relationship with Pollux. She is reliving past sorrows.
Erdrich obviously loves books and is a voracious reader. When her tale is done, and throughout the book great titles and exciting reads spill out, and as a bonus end up in lists of book recommendations at the end of the story. Read with a pen and paper handy because you will want to write down those book titles. Nothing like a good haunting, insight into indigenous lives, and a precarious love story to provide readers with a book that is hard to put down.