The Sentence by Louise Erdrich was our book club choice for January. It was an unusual book. The beginning is quite bizarre and I started in thinking what in the heck have I picked! In the course of about 15 pages, the lead character, Tookie, moves a dead body, gets arrested and convicted for 60 years, spends 10 years in prison and gets released because she was set up, gets a job in a book store, and gets married. Poof—it happens fast and strangely. Then things start to settle down--thankfully.
That is until Flora, a longtime customer in the book store, dies and begins to haunt the bookstore. Do you believe in ghosts or spirits? I am open to the idea, but a few events get a little far-fetched to me. Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, while others are incredibly sad. The main characters are all Native Americans in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the customers in the book store—which interesting enough is a real book store owned by the real author of the book—and she does make a few cameo appearances.
The story is a bit schizophrenic to me—different stories pop up and you have to try to keep things straight. The author does deal with the onset of Covid and how we all dealt with it—thinking it would only be with us for a month, and then going crazy when it continues. (the book ended long before vaccines had come out). Erdrich really nailed how we all felt and reacted as the virus lingered and attacked those we knew.
She also dealt with the George Floyd incident and Black Lives Matter. It was interesting to read about the events that happened in the town where it all began. While the book is fiction, I think she nails a lot of what was happening at the time—another plus for the book.
The book does cover a myriad of topics and we had plenty to discuss—ghosts, a bookstore and book selections (there is a large list of recommendations at the end of the book), COVID, motherhood, single parenting, drugs, native Americans, George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, marriage, quarantine, and more. Again, lots of story lines, and some fit in while others were just confusing.
I got this recommendation from a friend whose book club loved the book.
Mine didn’t love it, but we got through it. Highest rating was a 3.5 (out of 5) and the lowest was a 2.5. Overall it came in at 2.8. I don’t think any of us would recommend it to a friend to read, but most were ok with having read it.
So why the disparity from one book club over another? I have come to the conclusion (which not all my book club members agree with) that there are high brow books and low brow books. High brow books are those that you have to try to interpret and really think about. Low brow books are not bad books, but they tend to be mostly best sellers, and to be honest, the books I love. Then there are beach books or romance novels, a little bit lighter fare. All have their place in the world of reading, and I have read my fair share of all types. For me, I am pretty solid in the low brow section. I read for enjoyment, and I need to love at least one or two characters and get entranced by the story. I am no longer in honors English literature where I have to look for metaphors and symbolism. I think my friends book club is more highbrow than mine—not to say we are dumb or less educated, but I think we tend to all want to be enthralled by a book. Almost all of our members struggled reading the book, taking way longer than normal to finish it, and it was nowhere near the longest book we have ever read—only 387 pages.
It was a great book club book for discussion since it covered so many issues. It was also a great book to be able to serve food that matched the book.
I made charred corn soup (recipe I adapted follows), wild rice salad, fry bread,
and slice and bake chocolate chip cookies. It was great being together again in the new year and talking books. I have been reading a lot the past month. What are you reading that you enjoy—and is it highbrow or low?
Charred Corn Soup – Ala The Sentence by Louise Erdrich;
Adapted by Janet Carson
4-6 ears of fresh corn, cut off the cob
1 medium yellow onion diced
2 -3 medium to large potatoes diced
1 can of cannellini beans
4 cups (32 ounces) of chicken stock/broth
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
2-3 bay leaves
Dash of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of heavy cream
Heat a heavy pan to medium heat and add the corn in a single layer with a splash of olive oil to char. About 6-7 minutes in, (or if you hear popping), toss the corn to the other side. After about 3 minutes, add in the onion and continue browning. Then add in the diced potatoes and continue to toss browning everything. When things are looking fairly browned (not burned) add the garlic for about a minute. Then add in the chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme, chopped parsley (about ¼ of a cup), and cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes. At this point, I took it off the heat and cooled it down and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I heated it on low until it was hot, then tasted to adjust salt and pepper. Then I stirred in the cream. You don’t want boiling soup or the cream will break. I left it on simmer until we were ready to eat. I removed the bay leaves before adding the cream. Very good. This makes about 8 servings.