Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Published: June 25th 2013 by Random House
Source: ARC from publisher (and pre-ordered copy from Rainy Day Books
Synopsis (Goodreads): Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.
From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.
Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.
Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.
My thoughts: After reading Prep, a novel about the trials and tribulations of a teen girl at boarding school, and American Wife, a novel whose main character is modeled after Laura Bush, I never expected that Curtis Sittenfeld’s next novel would be about psychic sisters.
Despite the supernatural hook, Sisterland is very much in the tradition of Sittenfeld’s previous novels, which feature startling realistic and unflinchingly honest narrators and examine complex family dynamics. Rather than an angsty teenage outsider or a wife who loves her husband but is at odds with his politics, Sisterland centers around Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, who both have “senses” that give them glimpses into the future. While Kate eschews her given name–Daisy–and her psychic abilities for a quiet life in the suburbs raising her two young children as a stay at home mom. Vi, who makes a living as a professional psychic, predicts a massive earthquake and appears on television warning local St. Louis residents, and Kate can’t escape the fallout, or her own premonitions.
But as anyone who has read her previous novels knows, Sittenfeld doesn’t write about just one event, but guides readers through the lives of her characters by weaving together small happenings from different time periods and slowly drawing a story out of these seemingly unrelated events. Though Kate’s complicated relationship with her sister is at the heart of the book, it also explores the complicated dynamics between married couples, and the challenges of suburban life. Though the premise is paranormal, the story is rooted firmly in the everyday experiences of Kate.
What separates Sittenfeld from other novelists is her ability to create rich, inner lives for her characters. Though never quite likeable, they are highly relateable. Sittenfeld manages to make the minutiae of everyday life fascinating, even if everyday life consists of playdates, errands, and the care of infants and toddlers. I am in awe of her ability to move the reader back and forth in time so fluidly and naturally, and I relish her complex and nuanced characters.
The countdown to the predicted earthquake makes for a suspenseful read, but the nature of the earth-shattering events that unfold will surprise readers. I highly recommend this novel to fans of Sittenfeld’s previous work. Though it didn’t dislodge Prep and This American Wife as my favorite of her novels, I enjoyed how the paranormal ESP storyline played out and was completely engrossed in the story. I admire Sittenfeld for taking a risk with this type of story and her ability to make it entirely her own.
Fans will also be interested to know that her next project is a book in a series (written by different authors) of modern retellings of Jane Austen’s novels, and Sittenfeld will be tackling Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know that any other contemporary author could do it justice, but Sittenfeld has a unique perspective all her own and shares Austen’s keen ability to capture the truth of human nature, so I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it justice and look forward to the way she modernizes the story.
I was thrilled to discover that Curtis Sittenfeld will be stopping by Kansas City on her book tour, so I’ll be picking up a signed copy of Sisterland from Rainy Day Books and getting to hear one of my favorite authors speak!
Every Day I Write the Book: “I am sad not to be shouting about Sisterland from the rooftops, as I’ve done with Sittenfeld’s books in the past. That said, a less-than-perfect Sittenfeld novel is still notches above many others, given her wonderful writing, and I did enjoy reading this one, despite my criticisms.”
Too Fond Book Reviews: “I liked Sisterland overall, although it took me a while to get into and I found the ending to be a bit soap opera-ish and inconsistent with the rest of the book.”
And because I can’t help myself, you should probably check out this review in gifs from The Relentless Reader because reviewing a Curtis Sittenfeld book in gifs is…unexpected.