Sisterland

This was the first time in my life I wasn’t completely enraptured by a Curtis Sittenfeld novel, and I don’t know what to do about it. Prep and American Wife were positively gripping — especially American Wife on account of it being “loosely” based on Laura Bush — and The Man of My Dreams was pretty incredible as well. With Sisterland, Sittenfeld, along with the rest of this country’s authors, took a dive into the supernatural, and I am pretty sure it didn’t work.

Sisterland is based on twin sisters Violet and Daisy, and told entirely from the perspective of Daisy (referring to herself as Kate later in life, married to a nice man named Jeremy and taking care of 3-year-old Rosie and 6-month-old Owen). The two grew up and still live in St. Louis, and from middle school for Kate and college for Vi they have experienced psychic powers, premonitions, visions, or “senses”, as they call them. Kate gives a lot of background on their upsetting childhood, including how their mother didn’t really like them, or their father, and ended up being a stay-in-bed-all-day mom who died of an “accidental” medication overdose on Christmas morning. Their father is painfully reserved but sweet; in one part of the book Kate describes the Christmas after the mom’s death, for which he gave his daughters $25 Starbucks gift cards. For reasons I cannot quite identify, that broke my heart into ten million pieces.

What Sittenfeld did well in Sisterland was intertwine the present with the past, flashing back to Kate and Violet’s defining moments in order to explain what was going on in the present. What I don’t think she did well was actually the main focus of the book, which was Violet’s very public prediction of a violent earthquake in the St. Louis area. Violet still embraces the “senses” in her adult life, claiming she receives information from a deity she calls “Guardian”, but Kate does not, so Kate gets extremely anxious about this prediction and the attention it brings to their family.

I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the earthquake stuff — you could kind of tell the whole time it wasn’t going to happen, that the “earthquake” was just a metaphor for some other life-changing event, which turns out to be **SPOILER ALERT** Kate cheating on her husband with an African American man who happens to be her and her husband’s very good friend, and ending up pregnant with his baby. The last 20 pages of the book are about something completely different than the first 300 and change — psychic powers and earthquakes — so I think if Curtis had just stuck to what she does best, which is write about the very ordinariness of life in an extraordinarily compelling way, it would have been a much better novel.

I’m on the fence about recommending this to others, but I highly highly highly recommend everything else by Sittenfeld. Next up: My loving wonderful boyfriend got me an Archie comics archive book, for which I will not write a review but will enjoy very much, and then I may finally work up the courage to read The Fault in Our Stars. (Emphasis on the word “may”.)

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