Review: SISTERLAND by Curtis Sittenfeld

Coming out next Tuesday, June 25, is Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel SISTERLAND – a story weaving twins, relationships, ESP, marital issues and relationships, and earthquakes into its plot. Twins Daisy and Violet share a special bond and use their ESP to gain popularity in school. When accused of being a witch, Daisy decides to never use her “senses” again. The girls grow up and Daisy changes her name to Kate, marries a stable young college professor, and has two children. Vi embraces her quirkiness and becomes a psychic, using her powers to locate an abducted child. Now in current day, the girls are in their twenties and living where they grew up, St. Louis . Vi becomes convinced that a major earthquake is looming. Kate agrees. Violet’s prediction going public leads to a chain of events that threatens all that Kate holds dear. Will the prediction prove to be right?

This story certainly had a lot going on in it! Along the relationship front, Kate is struggling with her at-home mom role, while building a “best friendship” with her neighbor Hank (whose wife works with Kate’s husband). Violet is tentatively trying out a lesbian relationship. Meanwhile, Kate is quite tethered to her two children who are about 1 and 3 (one is nursing – quite regularly throughout the book). I found the ESP portion of the book really interesting. Their “senses” (as they called them) weren’t extraordinary or freaky. They just knew things with a certainty, or had dreams of things. A lot of it seemed like good guessing and common sense to me (with the exception of finding the abducted child by visualizing his kidnapper). I kept reading this book and couldn’t put it down because it was moving towards the date of the predicted earthquake (October 16). I had to know: would it happen? Would they be okay? What would happen if Vi was completely wrong?

I won’t say whether the earthquake happens or not — but I will say some things do occur that are brought about by everything happening in this book. At one point I almost shouted at Kate: “NO! Wait! Stop! Don’t do this!” I found Kate a very likable character, though she was rather immature and self-centered. I thought it was interesting how the twins were so disparate in personality at the beginning of the novel – almost like two parts of the same person – and then both went more to the middle of the continuum. Violet was a bit of a disaster in the beginning, then made some strides to get her life together. Kate was ultra-organized to the point of being an autotron, and she became more human. I liked this piece of character development.

One thing that did throw me off was the point of view at the end. Throughout the book the story is told in Kate’s voice, moving towards October 16, with various pertinent flashbacks thrown in to provide “back story”. Then, post 10/16, the story moves to a future perspective, telling the story from looking back on it from a few years afterwards.  This shift threw me for a bit and felt awkward to me.

Overall, I really liked this novel. I loved PREP and AMERICAN WIFE and really like Ms. Sittenfeld’s writing. Her characters are well drawn and she has a flair for humor.

Thank you, Net Galley and Random House, for my ARC – I was quite psyched to get it!

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