Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Erdrich understands the sense of significance, whether subliminal or overt, that we can glean from stories—and what this offers our daily lives. The Sentence, Erdrich’s latest novel, unfolds over the course of one tumultuous year, and its persistent search for meaning reveals astonishing, sublime depths.
Tookie is an ex-convict turned bookseller working in a Minneapolis bookstore after years of reading for pure survival. Her voracious appetite for words has made her very good at what she does, but on All Souls’ Day in 2019, her world is thrown into disarray by an unlikely challenger. A customer who recently died has made her way back to the store, bringing along some revelations in a mysterious handwritten book, and she won’t leave until Tookie can figure out why she returned in the first place.
Though this often comically unpredictable ghost story forms the spine of The Sentence, Erdrich also branches out to explore the broader landscape of Minneapolis in 2019 and 2020, from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed. Yet 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.
Tookie isn’t just plagued by a literal ghost; she’s also haunted in other ways, and as she searches for the significance of these hauntings, she finds that she’s far from alone in her experience. 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.
The Sentence is 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.