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Author Louise Erdrich's 'The Sentence' follows a haunting during a momentous year

"The Sentence" by Louise Erdrich. (Courtesy)
"The Sentence" by Louise Erdrich. (Courtesy)

Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich about her new novel “The Sentence.” The book is about a haunting at a Native American bookstore in Minneapolis in 2020.

Book excerpt: ‘The Sentence’

By Louise Erdrich

While in prison, I received a dictionary. It was sent to me with a note. This is the book I would take to a deserted island. Other books were to arrive from my teacher. But as she had known, this one proved of endless use. The first word I looked up was the word ‘sentence.’ I had received an impossible sentence of sixty years from the lips of a judge who believed in an after-life. So the word with its yawning c, belligerent little e’s, with its hissing sibilants and double n’s, this repetitive bummer of a word made of slyly stabbing letters that surrounded an isolate human t, this word was in my thoughts every moment of every day. Without a doubt, had the dictionary not arrived, this light word that lay so heavily upon me would have crushed me, or what was left of me after the strangeness of what I’d done.

I was at a perilous age when I committed my crime. Although in my thirties, I still clung to a teenager’s physical pursuits and mental habits. It was 2005, but 1999 was how I partied, drinking and drugging like I was seventeen, although my liver kept try- ing to tell me it was over an outraged decade older. For many reasons, I didn’t know who I was yet. Now that I have a better idea, I will tell you this: I am an ugly woman. Not the kind of ugly that guys write or make movies about, where suddenly I have a blast of blinding instructional beauty. I am not about teachable moments. Nor am I beautiful on the inside. I enjoy lying, for instance, and am good at selling people useless things for prices they can’t afford. Of course, now that I am rehabilitated, I only sell words. Collections of words between cardboard covers.

Books contain everything worth knowing except what ultimately matters.

From the book: THE SENTENCE by Louise Erdrich. Copyright © 2021 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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