Louise Erdrich has written close to thirty books, won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, and is a member of The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Her novels, which are extraordinarily diverse, are often representative of some of the best known Native American literature out there. Neither Lara nor Jennifer is new to her books. Lara has read Love Medicine, The Master Butchers Singing Club, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, and The Round House. Jennifer has read Love Medicine and The Master Butchers Singing Club. Her 2021 offering is a book about a bookstore, a reformed criminal who got out of prison, a ghost who really wanted to be considered Indigenous, middle-aged marriage, Covid, George Floyd, and all those great books that we want to tell people about. The characters are mostly Native American, but not always. They are mostly down-to-earth, but not always. They are ALWAYS super fascinating.

Lara: A big element of The Sentence was Flora, a customer, who even after death, still visits the stacks. What did you think of Erdrich’s use of Flora in the story? How did she help (or not) propel the story forward? Bonus question: Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen/experienced one?

Jennifer: Well, I’m EXCITED! Can I say this? I LOVED THIS BOOK. I’m sure it’ll be among my fave reads of the year, if not my favorite. And one thing I loved about it was that it was all over the place. In the very beginning, when I first started it, I thought to myself, “What is this about?” As I read on, I still wondered. Prison and criminal injustice or discrimination against Native Americans? Native American life in the urban midwest? Book life? A love story? Parents and children? Covid? George Floyd? Ghosts? Well, it’s about all of those things. It’s a bit messy, but she pulls it off. Flora, the ghost story, the dip into magical realism, was my least favorite thread–nonetheless, I liked it all. Did it help? Yeah, it all did. I was interested in everything . . . I really wonder about your thoughts because I know that you’re not a fan of magical realism. 

Lara: You know me well! The ghost part was not my favorite part. But, I was still able to enjoy the book, despite that pretty major element. Can we talk about the protagonist? The start of the show? Tookie!

She’s a complex character. Did you like her? Not like her? Have evolving feelings about her? How good of a job do you think Erdrich did in developing our main character?

Jennifer: Totally liked her. A well-rounded, authentic character–being human. I thought Pollux was adorable. I loved them all. You?

Lara: Tookie was a perfect character, because she was so flawed and real, and, as you say: authentic. And, I think that characters/character development is one of Erdrich’s strengths. Speaking of her, Erdrich appeared in her own book as herself, running her own real-life bookstore. Did you like this element of the story? Did it work for you?

Jennifer: Oh, it so worked for me . . . joining the other all-over-the-place, total mess/somehow works aspects of this novel that still makes me wonder, WHAT IS THIS BOOK ABOUT? Erdrich sticks herself in the book, quietly, unassumingly. She lets us know she’s there, but she’s not there. I think she actually had one standout line. Tookie tells Louise how a sentence of prose killed Flora: 

“‘What I’m trying to say is that a certain sentence of the book—a written sentence, a very powerful sentence—killed Flora.’ 

Louise was silent. After a few moments she spoke. ‘I wish I could write a sentence like that.’” 

I love this! I think it attests to the idea that this book is a mess . . .And it might just be THE novel of our time. Messy, beautiful, true, self-conscious, still damn intellectual (a smart book, rather than one that panders to the dumbing-down of culture) . . . SORRY, I JUST WENT NUTS, DIDN’T I?

Lara: I don’t think you went nuts. Can you believe I said that? LOL. 

Jennifer: I. Cannot.

Lara: I loved that sentence too. It speaks to Erdrich’s humanness and her own journey as a writer. But I would say she’s written many stunning-maybe not murderous, but stunning–sentences. 

Let’s keep going. Erdrich incorporates current events, notably the murder of George Floyd and the Coronavirus Pandemic. Did this feel forced, natural, necessary? How did it work for you?

Jennifer: One of our friends asked if this will “date” the book. Will it stand the test of time? I’m going to say that I think IT WILL NOT DATE THE BOOK. I think Erdrich smartly made these things PART of the story, but not ALL of the story–so it’s more contextual than central, if that makes sense. I also think the location of this story demands some discussion. Also, for better or worse, Covid/George Floyd will be woven into American history. Trump too–but she was more careful about mentioning him, though she did. Erdrich was pretty smart.

Lara: I agree. I think it will date the book in terms of placing it in a time frame of history. However, I think the book will be able to stand the test of time because the events that are taking place right now are so significant to our time. Let’s talk about the title: The Sentence. This seemed intentional, and connected with the story in many different ways. Was this an appropriate title? Would you have titled it something else?

Jennifer: Um, will I say anything bad about this novel? I guess not . . . Loved it. I thought, initially, it was about Tookie’s time in prison. Then, it was Flora’s killer line. Great stuff . . . One thing we might want to add right here: Erdrich’s very literate posture in this novel. She KNOWS lit. Does she demand that we do too? Is it off-putting? Alienating? Elitist? My guess is we liked it . . . It’s so book-ish. How much better can it get FOR US? We were already heading for Patchett’s bookstore. Now, we’re going here too. So is this a good thing or what?

Lara: I know what you are asking. You are asking if this book is elitist or not one to be enjoyed by the masses. And I am going to say this: It’s not. It’s very accessible. A ghost and the trauma of the pandemic and George Floyd’s death instantly make it more accessible. I also think Tookie, the heart of the book, an authentic woman who has made some questionable choices but has a good heart makes this book highly readable. 

Jennifer: Can you identify your very favorite sentence in The Sentence?

Lara: Of course not! How can I pick just one when you have so many gems like these:

“A newborn baby has a powerful effect on character. But so does a toddler. A child. A preteen. A teenager. A mother changes with every stage. Some stages are within a mother’s skill set. Some stages are like being told to scale a cliff using a rope attached to nothing.”


“You can’t get over things you do to other people as easily as you get over things they do to you.” 


“Watching him closely after he paid for the books and took the package into his hands, I saw his pupils dilate the way a diner’s do when food is brought to the table.” 


“If I stepped off a cliff in that heart of his, he’d catch me. He’d put me back in the sun.”


“Ever since I understood this life was to be mine, I have wanted only for it to continue in its precious routine.”\

What about you? What’s your favorite?

Jennifer: I’m with you in that I don’t really think I can choose, but . . . 

“I’m still not strictly rational. How could I be? I sell books.”


“When a baby falls asleep in your arms you are absolved. The purest creature alive has chosen you. There’s nothing else.”


“She died instantly, said Kateri, implying she’d not had time to use a bookmark.”

And, honestly, this:

“Did he like celery?’ 

‘Does anybody?”

What else have you been reading?

Lara: Just a few things. I finished Jojo Moye’s The Giver of Stars, another book about books, that I liked more than I thought I would. I also read Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe, narrative non-fiction about the family behind the Purdue Pharma and the creation of Oxycontin. It was fascinating and infuriating. What have you been reading?

Jennifer:  Have I gushed yet over Jane Hamilton’s When Madeline Was Young? A very quiet novel that, at least in my world, made no noise whatsoever when it was out and about in 2006. Loved it! I recently finished Tears of Amber by Mexican author, Sofía Segovia. She wrote Murmur of Bees, which I loved. This is great too, but entirely different. Like, entirely. It’s about Germany in World War Two. The difference between these two books was pretty astonishing, I thought. But Segovia impressed me hugely. 

Up Next!

Join us next time when we discuss the much-buzzed about Razorblade Tears by S.A. Colby.


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