Review 1867: Literary Wives! The Sentence

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

We would also like to welcome a new member, Rebecca of Bookish Beck! We are so glad to have her with us!

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

My Review

Tookie spent the first decade or so of her adulthood getting wasted and falling into trouble with the law. When she was arrested by Pollux of the tribal police, though, she wasn’t even sure she had broken the law, or at least she didn’t see it that way. She had borrowed her previous employer’s van to bring the body of her friend’s boyfriend back to her from the woman her boyfriend left her for. But Tookie didn’t know the woman had taped packets of crack into the body’s armpits.

Both other women having lied about Tookie’s involvement in the crime, she had the bad luck to pull a judge who sentenced her to 60 years. What saved her in prison was reading.

Tookie’s lawyer never stopped working for her, so after ten years she was released for time served. She got a job at a bookstore in Minneapolis and married Pollux, no longer a cop.

Flora dies. Tookie describes her as the bookstore’s most irritating customer. The bookstore (which I believe is Birchbark Books, owned by Erdrich) specializes in books written by and about indigenous people. Flora was a wannabe, who claimed indigenous heritage based on a photo of an ancestor who looked possibly indigenous.

After her death, Tookie takes home a handwritten manuscript that Flora was holding when she died. It is difficult to read, but when Tookie makes out a particular sentence, she is horrified. She knows that reading this sentence was what killed Flora. She tries to burn the journal and finally buries it in the backyard.

Flora begins haunting Tookie at the bookstore. At first, no one else notices her, so Tookie is afraid she’s going mad. But then others hear her, and Tookie becomes afraid to work in the bookstore alone. The city becomes more chaotic with the arrival of Covid and later the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd.

This book explores what the living owe the dead, as well as what we owe ourselves. It is a book for book lovers and even ends with lists of favorite books, so of course it appealed to me.

Erdrich’s books can be difficult to read, but even though this one contains some tough scenes, she seems to be softening. Despite some hard subject matter, the novel is almost cozy, with a warm feeling of community centered around the bookstore, a loving marriage, an evolving family life for Tookie, and quirky, likable characters. Its overall feeling is of transcendence. It’s a lovely book.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

I had to reread this novel for the book club even though I had just read it a few months ago, because I hadn’t read it with our subject matter in mind. On second read, I liked this book even better than I did the first time.

We should all be so lucky as to have a marriage like that of Tookie and Pollux. Although they have a few small spats, for most of the novel, the two have a warm and accepting relationship. There is a little bit of a breakdown because Tookie feels she can’t tell Pollux about being haunted by Flora, but even that turns out to be a misunderstanding.

The biggest impact to their relationship comes with the murder of George Floyd and the resulting chaos around police violence. These events make Tookie face her feelings about Pollux having been a cop, especially because when she reached out to grasp his hands after her adventure with the corpse, he cuffed her. I believe this situation is made worse because of Pollux’s own ambivalence about the events surrounding the Floyd killing and his own former career. Tookie shows her feelings subtly, for example, by not wearing the jingle dress herself but giving it to Hetta to wear, but the couple know each other so well that he understands.

Basically, their relationship is so good that they weather their problems. Troubles come from not speaking about things, but eventually everything is discussed.

Related Posts

The Night Watchman

LaRose

The Bookshop

9 thoughts on “Review 1867: Literary Wives! The Sentence

  1. Cynthia June 6, 2022 / 12:01 pm

    As a resident of Minneapolis and a longtime reader of Louise Erdrich’s books, I really appreciated The Sentence. Although an intensely personal story, it also gets inside the Minneapolis community experience around George Floyd’s death.

    I’m due another visit to her bookstore soon as my book club here is scheduled to read The Night Watchman, her Pulitzer Prize winner. For others who like her writing, I think some of her best novels are newly relevant, including The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and LaRose.

    • whatmeread June 6, 2022 / 3:24 pm

      Gosh, you are so lucky to be able to go. The Night Watchman was excellent, but I think I loved The Sentence more than any of her other books. Of course, it has the major book theme. I didn’t ever read “The Last Report,” but I have read “LaRose.” I will have to look for “The Last Report.”

  2. Naomi June 6, 2022 / 12:12 pm

    I think we mostly felt the same way about this book. I didn’t focus as much on their feelings around the police issue. I think I was struck more by how grateful Tookie was just to have what she calls a “regular” life, and what she imagines constitutes this regular life. And then I started to wonder what her life would have been like if she hadn’t married Pollux. Would she have felt like she had value on her own? Or does she rely too much on Pollux for the value she places on herself? (Set off by her quote on wanting to die if Pollux were to die. Although, that could have just been fear talking and I read too much into it…ha!)

    • whatmeread June 6, 2022 / 3:41 pm

      I noticed that you commented on that. I don’t know how I feel about that. I guess I don’t spend a lot of time wondering about what things would be like if they were different. She also gets value from her job, which she presumably would have whether she was married to Pollux or not. I took it more that the reading, which saved her in prison, continued to save her afterwards, although Pollux is definitely a big part of it.

      I also think that people who love very much (which Tookie does even before she meets Pollux, that’s how she got into trouble in the first place) think they’re going to die when their partner does, but they don’t. They mostly figure out how to live.

      • Naomi June 8, 2022 / 7:15 pm

        Yes, you’re probably right. You’re often the voice of reason to all my “what ifs?” lol
        I’m happy to know that Tookie will be okay without Pollux… just in case… 😉

      • whatmeread June 8, 2022 / 8:14 pm

        At this point, my husband would say, “It’s just fiction,” but I hear you.

  3. Rebecca Foster June 7, 2022 / 12:59 pm

    Thank you for the welcome! I love what you’ve written about the warmth of the book, as reflected in both their marriage and the bookshop atmosphere. The only other book I’ve read by Erdrich was Love Medicine, which I enjoyed more. I’d like to find more of her stuff.

    • whatmeread June 7, 2022 / 1:54 pm

      She has written a lot. Her older work tends to be darker.

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