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Spirit Away: ‘The Sentence’ by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich is about the power of words, spoken or written, awakening the spirits of the author, storyteller, characters, and readers, all adrift and luminous as the boundary between the real and the ideal collapses. It’s a polyphonic work of trauma narrative, cultural studies, social commentary, and philosophical memoir interwoven in multiple strands of a joint account.

The story evolves around Tookie, a doubting bibliophile who thinks books have everything you should know except what actually matters. Books are no more than a portal to mental escapade, a world of make-believe in the likeness of truth or reflected in the highest ether of reason and sentiment, which makes no defining impact on her checkered life as if it were her sentence from the judges of this world and the beyond. So much so that when Tookie finds that the newly deceased soul of a regular customer haunts the bookstore, she works at, she laments her fate of chaos that seems ever to stalk her small wish to live a quiet everyday life. Is it her sentence to live In perceptual existential malaise? And yet, Tookie ends up living daily life with a loving husband and daughter in a house of their own with a steady job as a bookstore attendant. Isn’t it what is considered an everyday life? So why can’t Tookie let the ghost alone when ghosts refuse to depart for the other until they finish their businesses in the world as part of their spiritual sentence?

I decided to read this book after reading a review from the NYT Book Review a couple of months ago because of Tookie for being exceptional wanting to be ordinary. I felt for her, which was valid until the middle of the book. But as Tookie became settled with her husband in their own house burgeoning as a knowledgeable employee at a local bookstore, she began to lose her fabulous, unique luster. Indeed, I was all high fives for her happiness that I felt deserving, but the further I progressed to pages, the more my heart parted with Tookie’s existential frustration, except the touching moments of love between her and her husband. Also, unlike the book’s general introduction as a ghost story, It is not a supernatural book that will fulfill your cravings for an intelligent horror story. Instead, it is an extended short story featuring a ghost as a fire-starter of narratives connected by bibliophilia. The author believes bibliotherapy is a recipe for the existential malady to quiet the anxious mind. There is no more enchanting than a book, electronic or bound. The lifeless words become alive as the reader awakens the book’s spirit by entering the world of make-believe through the labyrinth of stories leading to the secret garden of truths that the author has fruited.



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Why I will read the Sentence by Louise Erdrich

People usually don’t want to hear your problems, pains, and premonitions unless they know you or relate to you. In the case of Tookie’s existential distress that seems to be an inexplicable sentence on her life, I will say it’s the latter case for me to be piqued with a kind of sisterhood attached to it.

Malcolm Jones’s review of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich from the Nov. 14th issue of the New York Times Book Review was the most brilliant. I found it so straightforwardly moving and personally related to my own narratives of life, both existential and philosophical, that I felt like finding a friend in the protagonist Tookie. Jones’s interpretation of Fiona’s ghost as one of Tookie’s many as though the ghost itself were a mock to her pitiable wish to have a sense of security in the normalcy of life was particularly impressive. It created unfathomable pathos for Tookie, who seemed to believe that she was kept away from anything happy happening to her.

So thanks to the review, I will get to read more about the kindred Tookie and look forward to seeing if there is indeed plenty of light in the book that sheds upon life’s predicaments.