That’s what she read: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

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C. Jayne Trent

Photo courtesy of npr.org

sisterland_npr.org

Sisterland is a tale of Kate and Violet, identical twins born with something very special: the ability to predict the future. The girls refer to this unusual gift as “the senses,” which draws them close to each other – closer than ordinary twins, and much closer over time than Kate, our narrator, is comfortable with.

As the story unfolds, we learn Kate is a stay-at-home mother of two children, and married to a sweet, loving, steady husband. She’s managed to relegate her “senses” to the past, along with her and Violet’s unhappy childhood. All is peaceful in her life, until Violet reenters.

Violet is now a psychic and, like her twin, has relocated back to their old hometown of St. Louis. She receives a message that the city will soon be struck by a major earthquake. Following this prediction, a minor temblor unsettles the city, and Violet receives much publicity, making an appearance on the TODAY show, and granting interviews everywhere. Through this, she thoroughly upends her sister Kate’s deliberately quiet, unobtrusive and conventional life.

Suddenly Kate must come to terms with the sister and the family secrets she’s denied, along with her long-repressed psychic abilities, while still maintaining the balance she needs for stability and control. Yet, being Violet’s sister is not easy, as she’s brash, outspoken and provocative, and she thinks of her “senses” as a gift, rather than the burden that uptight Kate has always believed it to be.

Sisterland was not the quick, easygoing summer fiction read I had expected. The story skipped back and forth in time much too often, making it confusing to follow. In terms of character development, I found myself disliking Kate, Violet seemed a bit too one-dimensional and over-the-top, and some of the supporting characters were shallow and barely developed. Yet I kept reading until the end, wanting to discover the outcome. Was there an earthquake? Do Kate and Violet make peace with their differences and their past and learn to accept each other for who they truly are? As I read, I wondered if I would like to be given the ability to glimpse into the future, and if this knowledge would make me more open like Violet, or fearful like Kate? I recommend this novel to anyone who has struggled to understand a sibling, or who has questioned their place and role in a family.

 

C. J. Trent is the Math Department Secretary. She would always rather be reading.