Sisterland A novel

Curtis Sittenfeld

Book - 2013

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New York : Random House [2013], ©2013.
First edition
Physical Description
400 pages ; 25 cm
Main Author
Curtis Sittenfeld (-)
Review by New York Times Review

FROM Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" to "The Parent Trap" and beyond, twins have provided rich fodder for our stories. Mistaken identity makes for great farce, and, paradoxically, identical twinship provides a way to examine what makes us different. Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel, "Sisterland," offers an intriguing look at what it might be like to have a double. Not the long lost double from whom you've been separated for most of your life, but the double who shares your room, your clothes and, in the case of these psychic sisters, some of your more disturbing thoughts. It's September 2009 in St. Louis and Kate Tucker awakens to the rumblings of a minor earthquake. By the end of the day her flamboyant twin, Violet, a professional psychic, will have publicly predicted that a bigger quake will soon devastate the region. Kate's geophysicist husband disagrees. The locals are divided over what to believe, and Kate, who secretly shares her twin's premonition, is caught in the middle. Kate and Violet may look alike, especially as children, but it's the artful rendering of each one's idiosyncrasies that makes this novel so affecting. In this, as in her other books - "Prep," "The Man of My Dreams" and "American Wife" - Sittenfeld's confident, no-frills style belies the complexities of her characters and their relationships. Her protagonists tend to be shrewdly observant outliers, neither Queen Bees nor Wannabes; they seem relatable, and they make us feel complicit. The narrative in "Sisterland" moves effortlessly back and forth between the present and Kate's childhood, when she was still known by the name Daisy. The sisters are close until Daisy is befriended by the most popular girl in their middle school class. Awkward Violet feels snubbed, and a fissure develops between the twins, eventually turning into a fault line. They attend separate colleges, and as soon as they're apart, Daisy changes her name to Kate. When a much heavier Violet shows up at Kate's school, Kate is alarmed. "It would have been mean to see her as a cautionary example," she concedes, "a warning of what would happen if I stopped climbing the StairMaster every day, but after our time apart, both our similarities and differences appeared more starkly to me than they ever had before." Mean or not, Kate constantly compares herself with Violet, and who could blame her? Wouldn't we all like to have a clone we could watch trampling recklessly on the path we didn't follow? But this study in contrasts feels slightly skewed by the fact that Kate, our prim narrator, is rigid and judgmental, while free-spirited Violet seems as though she might actually be fun, if only Kate would let us get to know her. Sure, Vi may be careless and dumpy, and she might hang out with hippies, but to say that Kate is conventional is an understatement. When Kate learns Violet is dating women, she doubts her overweight sister is really gay, rationalizing that "most lesbians seemed to be more forgiving about appearances than most straight men." At a family meal, Violet says she has an announcement to make, which sets off Kate's hysterical thoughts: "She wasn't going to tell our father about the woman she was dating, was she? Over dinner, in our backyard?" Even though Kate is supposed to have a second sense, she often seems to lack any perspective, imagining at one point that a black man crossing the road behind her "was planning to rob, rape or kill me." The twins may be psychic, but this sensational aspect of their personalities is never fully explored, functioning more as a device to move the plot along toward the prophesied doomsday. Like "Prep," much of this book is devoted to girls' adolescence. About halfway through, I couldn't help feeling that I had been invited to Daisy's for a sleepover, only to discover that all the fun is happening on Vi's side of the room. Ann Leary's most recent novel, "The Good House," was published in January.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 30, 2013] Review by Booklist Review

Twin sisters Kate Tucker and Violet Schramm are at the heart of Sittenfeld's (American Wife, 2008) latest novel, which opens with a modest earthquake striking St. Louis. In the aftermath, Violet goes on television predicting that a much larger quake will hit the area, much to her sister's horror. Kate has spent her life trying to shove aside the psychic abilities she and her sister share, choosing the safe confines of marriage and motherhood over nurturing her gifts the way Violet has. Violet's prediction becomes national news, thrusting her into the spotlight and causing a mild panic in St. Louis. Kate finds herself under intense scrutiny as well, from acquaintances and even friends, including her husband's colleague Courtney, a scientist who finds Violet's prediction absurd. Sittenfeld alternates between the present and the past, revealing the Schramm sisters' fraught childhood and complex relationship. A late-in-the-game twist makes the final pages fly, but the real strength of this moving story is Sittenfeld's nuanced examination of the strength of familial bonds, whether they are between sisters or spouses. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A concerted promotional campaign will support the newest daring novel by best-selling Sittenfeld, while the film version of her big hit, American Wife, is in development.--Huntley, Kristine Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Delicious insights into sisterhood and motherhood are peppered throughout Sittenfeld's novel about identical twins with ESP. The story, though, isn't as convincing as the twins, who are rendered so vividly that readers would be able to pick them out of a crowd. Kate, a stay-at-home mom in St. Louis, Mo., is embarrassed by her sister Violet, who ekes out a living as a psychic. After a minor earthquake in the area in September 2009, Violet's guiding spirit warns her that a major quake is imminent. When Kate has a premonition that it will occur on October 16, she allows Violet to share the date with the public if she doesn't reveal its source. Kate tells the story in chapters that alternate between timelines, one beginning with the September quake and one beginning when the twins are born. As a narrator, Kate is introspective and mostly honest, but the backstory is weighed down with unnecessary details and crucial questions remain unasked. As the clock ticks toward October 16, Violet attracts widespread media attention and Kate pleads with her husband not to leave her and the twins at home to attend a conference in Colorado. Sittenfeld (American Wife) offers no fresh perspective on ESP or living with giftedness but delivers a rich and intimate tale of imperfect, well-meaning, ordinary people struggling to define themselves and protect the people they love. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Identical twins Kate and Vi (Violet) were born with scattershot psychic abilities. As grown women, living wildly divergent lives in St. Louis, they are inextricably tied to each other in cranky, frustrating, and often combative ways. Narrator Kate has worked hard to mask her "sixth sense" by transforming herself into an ordinary wife to loving, even-keeled husband Jeremy and mother of two adorable kids, but she has enormous insecurities. Kate and Jeremy's neighbors are Courtney (who is also Jeremy's colleague) and her stay-at-home husband Hank, who is Kate's best friend. Vi is an exuberant, self-centered self-promoter who gives psychic readings for a living. When an earthquake rattles St. Louis in September 2009, Vi's prediction that a much bigger one is on the way gains national traction, setting off a media circus and geographic panic. As well, Kate's reluctant, growing involvement in Vi's life leads to a shocking, seismic disruption on her home front. VERDICT Any one of the many themes in this latest novel from Sittenfeld (Prep and American Wife) would make for a riveting story. The author turns conventions on their collective head and creates a world that is familiar, maddening, alluring, and, ultimately, guardedly hopeful.-Beth Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Her psychic sister's prediction of a major earthquake unsettles a St. Louis woman's life in the latest from best-selling Sittenfeld (American Wife, 2008, etc.). Although identical twins Violet and Daisy Shramm as girls both had "the senses," Daisy suppressed her abilities as part of her transformation into ordinary Kate Tucker, wife to Washington University professor Jeremy and mother to toddler Rosie and baby Owen. She's mortified by being related to a professional psychic and appalled when Vi publicly contradicts seismologist Courtney Wheeling, who says a small quake that rattles St. Louis in September 2009 is not necessarily a prelude to a bigger one. Courtney is Jeremy's colleague, and her husband, Hank, also a stay-at-home parent, is close with Kate's. Vi is oblivious to the messy reality of life with small children, and we frequently see her imposing on her overwhelmed sister while condemning Kate (not without justification) as uptight and controlling; it's a skillful way for Sittenfeld to spotlight the differences that make the twins' interactions so fraught. The present-day narrative, moving toward the date Vi set for the big quake, intertwines with Kate's memories of childhood and adolescence to explain why she felt so threatened by her powers--and to reveal a marriage as fraught in its own ways as Kate's bond with Vi. Jeremy is exasperated by his wife's anxieties, which sometimes threaten to dominate their lives; she feels inferior to her better educated, more relaxed spouse. The novel has some structural problems; scenes from the twins' past take up more pages than their intrinsic interest merits and sometimes annoyingly interrupt the compelling main story. These flaws are insignificant compared with the powerful denouement: a shocking yet completely plausible act by Kate and its grim consequences for her marriage. The quiet closing pages remind us that damaged bonds can be repaired. A rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction's smartest, most perceptive practitioners.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.