Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Description from Good Reads
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 Review
The book begins with an earthquake, and a sister's revelation about her sexuality. These things are not related. However, the family dynamic and the earthquake become intertwined as the story continues, and you quickly see that one can be used as a metaphor for the other. 

The book itself is about two twin sisters, Violet Shramm and Daisy "Kate" Tucker. It is about their father and their mother. It is about Kate's husband, Jeremy, and two kids, Rosie and Owen. It is about their close friendship with their neighbors and collegue of Jeremy's, Courtney and Hank, and their daughter, Amelia (who is slightly older than Kate and Jeremy's daughter, Rosie).
The book is secondly about both sisters being born with senses- they have the ability to see into future events and also see people's secrets.

We mainly follow Kate through the book, and her thoughts. We follow her through her and Vi's childhood, their dealings with their mother (who appears to suffer from depression), and their interaction with classmates. Kate learns early on her abilities can be used to predict the future, and while at a slumber party, some girls are playing with a Ouija board and she can sense they are not using it correctly, but have honed a spirit. A popular girl "uses" Kate for her abilities to try to get a boy to like her, and eventually, the girl turns on her. This causes Kate to disregard her abilities for a long time, and even "burn" her powers.

Vi, on the other hand, continues to use her abilities, and eventually is able to support herself financially by offering readings and spiritual guidance to others. She has a spirit guide she calls "The Guardian".

One day, Vi predicts an earthquake. She doesn't know when it will happen. Then Kate dreams and wakes up and senses the date will be October 16th. From there, the book follows them both on their journey to this date, and beyond. It also follows the family and friends through this prediction, and how they relate and react.

The October 16th date ends up coming and going with an "earthquake" of a situation. I won't ruin that part of the story, but I will say you may see it coming. There is a reason Kate thought of this as a day that things in her life would shake. Many, many things happen this day.

The book is very good at leading you from the past, to the present, and then slightly into the future. At times, I wouldn't realize exactly where in the story I was, but that is probably reader error and not a problem with the book itself.
 I will say I was confused at first when they called Kate the name of Daisy. I didn't get that they were one in the same character, but that confusion was solved within a couple of pages.

I do think this book either requires you to believe in the ability of senses, or at least be able to suspend your disbelief if you don't. I personally do believe that people have senses, so it was easier for me to follow Vi and the way she was than if I did not. I know a lot of the reviewers on Goodreads say that she is selfish, and a sociopath- I don't see her this way. I see her as having a gift, and not being ashamed of it. And not living her life hiding herself has made her unabashed in her attitude toward Kate and her life choices.
Kate chose to hide her gifts. I believe this is mostly because of her personal experiences using her gift, and also partly because her husband does not believe in the gift. Not that her husband is a bad guy- to the contrary, he is a great father, devoted husband, and a well-written character.

There is a sexual element in the story that cannot be ignored. Both girls have sexual experiences in their early teens, and sex plays a big part in the story. If that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you. But that is maybe five pages out of the 416 page story, that is really about family and relationships. If you enjoy novels about family dynamics, this is a book for you.
But if you're looking for a book with a warm and fuzzy ending, this is definitely not the book for you, and Curtis Sittenfeld is not the author for you. None of her books leave you feeling great when you're done reading them. But they do stay with you.

I definitely enjoyed this book, but I had a feeling I would- I have read and enjoyed the last three novels I have read by Curtis Sittenfeld, which are Prep, American Wife, and The Man of my Dreams. I gave the last three novels Four Stars on Good Reads, and that is what I am giving this book as well. Not in my top favorites list, but definitely worth the read!

You can purchase Sisterland here for Kindle, and here for a physical copy. Or you can borrow a copy from your local library!

FTC: I borrowed this book from my local library.

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