I’ve been surprised lately how many big authors are incorporating the pandemic into their new novels. It seems too soon, right? Well, it is certainly a moment in our collective history and consciousness, and fiction, to me at least, has always been an excellent way to make sense of challenging, painful experiences.
One of the most poignant examples released this past Fall is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich’s writing is complex and moving, with a cast of very human characters experiencing the pain and joys of existence. She often incorporates her own heritage to tell stories about the intersection of European immigrant and Native experiences in the rural Midwest. However, in her latest, she has chosen to tell a story set in the very urban city of Minneapolis, which is also home to her very real bookstore, Birchbark Books, a major setting for her latest work. Erdrich also incorporates the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and the subsequent protests and demonstrations.
While I highly recommend reading this novel for yourself, there remains high demand, so here is a quick list of some other books to read while you’re waiting for your copy of The Sentence.
Recent fiction by indigenous authors: Another book I have finally had a chance to read is Tommy Orange’s prize-winning debut There, There. It’s a sharply written contemporary story about a group of indigenous characters that live in or around Oakland, California. Each has their own pain, and all are making a journey to a big Pow Wow set to be held in Oakland, seeking a solution, in one form or another, to their individual struggles. (I should also plug our Morning Book Group here, which is meeting to discuss this book next week.) If you’re looking for a great horror story, try Stephen Graham Jones’s work, The Only Good Indians, a blend of classic horror and social commentary that follows four childhood friends as they are followed by a mysterious and haunting entity representing the heritage they left behind. If you’re into science fiction, try Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, which blends Pre-Colombian culture, political intrigue, celestial events and forbidden magic to create a fresh, gripping new story.
Recent Fiction incorporating the pandemic: For many, it will be too soon, especially considering in many ways we have still not entirely put the pandemic behind us. For others, as I said above, these novels present an opportunity to work through some of the difficulties we’ve all experienced over the past two years. One of these titles is by the award-winning writer Gary Shteyngart, called Our Country Friends. Modeled on the social satire of Anton Chekov, Shteyngart’s characters start out in the early days of the pandemic. Alexander “Sasha” Senderovsky has decided now would be a great time to invite his best friends to join his wife and child at his remote compound in upstate New York, allowing them to escape their city existences for a while. Also joining them is an actor with whom Sasha is working on a screen play, and a young acolyte of Sasha’s from his days as a college writing professor. Over the course of their relative isolation, stories will be shared, hilarious and crazy things will happen and even love will bloom and be rekindled. But there is also great loss, and the friends will endure this together. Other significant novels released recently in this category include, Jodi Picoult’s Wish You Were Here, Noah Hawley’s fantastical satire Anthem, and How High We Go In the Dark, which presents a chorus of voices, moving from an early pandemic through life and death and time telling the stories of pain, innovation, and adjustment to the changing world.
Hopefully among these titles you’ll be able to find something to tide you over until The Sentence comes around to you. For even more great recommendations, check out our Book Spots, every week on Instagram, and don’t forget to check out our Winter Reading Challenge, going on now through March 4, 2022.