“In love as in death and mayhem, small things start a chain of events which veer so out of control that sooner or later an absurd detail intrudes, bringing the trail of events back for us to ponder.” The Sentence is an amazing story of big and small events which give us a lot to ponder.
The narrator is a Native American woman named Tookie. Tookie is thinking back on the 60 year prison sentence she received for transporting a dead body from Wisconsin to Minnesota in a stolen refrigerator truck in 2005. Why, you might ask, would she do such a thing? Well, her best friend Danae was in love with the dead man and he died at the home he shared with his wife, Mara. Danae claimed to be distraught and need the body. So Tookie, madly in love with her friend, stole a refrigerated truck, pretended to be a funeral director of sorts and brought the body across state lines to Danae. In exchange, she received $27,000. One big problem—unknown to Tookie– the body hid many bags of crack cocaine.
After moving the body, Tookie went to a favorite tavern for a meal where she was arrested by a tribal policeman named Pollux. “My nemesis. My alternate crush.”
While in prison, Tookie’s former teacher, Jackie, sent her a dictionary and other books. The books were a lifeline for Tookie. She was able to survive because “I discovered that unknown to myself I had a library in my head.” After about nine years into her sentence, she was released. The real story had finally come to the surface.
Tookie gets a job at the bookstore where Jackie works in Minneapolis, which just happens to be owned by a famous Native American writer named Louise. One day while she is shopping, she runs into Pollux. They marry and begin a life together, although the arrest is ever present.
The bookstore has many customers, but one in particular, Flora, is a key part of the story. Flora, who is not Native American, is convinced that she has Native American roots. “Flora told people that she had been an Indian in a former life… Later, once she absorbed the fact that ‘Indian in a Former Life’ was a much ridiculed cliché, she changed her tune. She suddenly discovered a shadowy great grandmother and showed me the photograph of a grim woman in a shawl.” Flora died on the second of November. “Five days after Flora died, she was still coming back to the book store.” Flora the ghost particularly haunts Tookie. Unfortunately, Pollux is not sympathetic as he refuses to believe in ghosts.
Flora died reading a book. Her adopted daughter, Kateri, gives the book to Tookie. The title page of the book reads: “The Sentence—An Indian Captivity 1862-1883.” The book is disturbing and Tookie is convinced that it killed Flora and is the reason Flora is haunting her. She tries to burn the book but it will not burn so she buries it in her back yard.
Pollux’s niece, Hetta, comes to live with them with a newborn infant. Pollux is treated as Hetta’s father and Tookie, ultimately her mother. Tookie and Hetta have a tense relationship but circumstances and the infant bring all three of them close together.
The story continues through the start of the pandemic and the closing of the store. Although the store is closed, it is deemed essential and book orders continue to flow. Each employee is assigned a day and time to work alone, but when Tookie works, Flora torments her. Then George Floyd is murdered and Minneapolis erupts. Hetta takes to the streets and Pollux and Tookie worry for her safety. Everyone at the book store is involved in the outcry for justice. When Pollux gets COVID and lands in the hospital fighting for his life, Tookie is overwhelmed.
Throughout the novel there are books everywhere. Tookie is constantly making recommendations to customers and at the end of the novel there is a list of her recommendations. There is also the mystery of Tookie’s real name which is deftly tied into the story.
This novel has everything. It is an amazing story taking place in our current world with real issues, it has ghosts and history and is also a mystery. And for readers, well, it has a book store and book recommendations and book lovers everywhere. This is a great novel. You can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.