“The Verdict” by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins).
When she’s not writing best-selling Native American novels, Louise Erdrich runs a bookstore in Minneapolis that sells Native literature and art. Her latest book, The Verdict, brings together her interest in the story of the ghost of a shaggy dog that unfolds throughout the year in a city hit by the pandemic and the assassination of George Floyd.
Much of the novel is told by a woman, first known only as Tookie, who, within 30 pages, transforms from a drunkard and drug-addicted outlaw into a “book nerd” devoted to her husband, Pollux, a former tribe. the cop who helped put her in jail but now makes designer furniture in his landscaped neighborhood. Tookie attributes her dizzying transformation to “the most important skill I learned in prison … reading with killer attention,” a talent that also gives her a job in a native bookstore that bears a striking resemblance to Erdrich’s bookstore. own Birchbark Books.
In the second chapter, we met the ghost of Flora, a devoted reader and devoted shopper who, during her lifetime, sought to identify herself as indigenous in order to atone for the sins of her white-tree baron ancestors. Her ghostly visits to the store – and her obscure origins – turned Tuki’s life upside down, at least temporarily, and shed light on her troubled family history. More broadly, all of the novel’s protagonists are haunted by the ghosts of American history, including centuries of racially motivated violence and hatred.
Erdrich, one of the country’s most gifted writers, whose novel Night Watch won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, does much well in this book – filled with flamboyant characters, naturalistic dialogues, and strikingly beautiful depictions of babies and the natural world. …
But she often seems to have written three or four separate sagas — a bookseller’s memoir, a family drama about Tookie, Pollux, and their adopted daughter; convoluted, overly symbolic ghost story; and a diary about the early days of the isolation of COVID-19 and the aftermath of Floyd’s murder – and combined them in one novel.
According to the epigraph of Minneapolis-based Korean American poet Sun Jung Shin, “From birth to death, every word you utter is part of one long sentence.” If this is true, then The Verdict still deserves consideration because, despite its shortcomings, it is an integral part of the “one long sentence” and life-long work of this genius writer.