I was initially drawn to the book because it centers on a (possible) earthquake and I have a bit of a history with those myself, but I didn’t expect the book to revolve so heavily around relationships and the ties that bind a family. The story took a decidedly different turn from what I had expected, but it was not an unpleasant journey.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book weaves the tale of twin sisters, Daisy and Violet, who were born with the gift (curse?) of having premonitions of future events. (As the girls realize they have an ability not shared by all, they call their power their “senses,” not knowing how else to label it, as any discussion of their ability is quickly muted at home.) These shared senses are nearly all the two have in common as adults. While Violet embraces her ability, dropping out of college after just a few weeks because Guardian (a spirit guide who came to her for the first time while she studied in her university library) told her she had a different path to take in life, uses her skills as a source of revenue, holding séances and readings, Daisy runs in the opposite direction from her abilities. After starting college under the guise of her middle name, Kate, and then taking her husband’s last name after marriage, she has effectively closed the door on her history as one of the twins with senses. No one can track her or immediately connect her with her outspoken sister.
A back story of a clinically depressed mother overwhelmed by life and school years besought with bullying and name-calling (the twins were well-known to be “witches) helps the reader see why one sister might embrace the notoriety that would come with premonitions of the future while another would turn tail and run. Basing a book on the idea of extrasensory abilities has the potential to head towards comic book storylines, but Sittenfeld’s characters are well-rounded and deeply developed so the reader imagines them as real people and not people who belong in Lycra uni-tards on the big screen, saving the world through the destruction of evil.
The two women live near each other, and near their aging father, their relationship is strained when Violet publicly announces that she senses an earthquake will soon ravage their home state. Kate is suddenly drawn back in to a world that she swore off after the birth of her first child.
Up until this point, I really enjoyed everything about the book. The strained, but loving, relationship of the family is one that is relatable to many readers and the plot flows well. But, I can’t walk away from this review without one minor grievance: Kate is a stay-at-home mom and is good friends with a stay-at-home dad up the street. (Conveniently, her husband works with his wife at a local college.) The problem lies in the cliché. While the two have been friends for years, suddenly their relationship jumps to a whole new level, once again playing into the idea that it is impossible for a man and woman to have a truly platonic friendship. Plus, this bit of indiscretion on Kate’s part creates a whole new storyline as the consequences of her choice create far-reaching ripples, but ones that don’t entirely play out in the narrative before the books ends.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s newest book is well-written and even though it is based on extrasensory hunches, is mostly believable as realistic fiction. (I had to look the author up to realize that Curtis is a woman. As I read, I was surprised that a man could write the intricacies of the sisters’ relationship so accurately!) Even as I am annoyed with the ending of Sisterland, I think it is a story that would be enjoyed by many, falling firmly into what I would call the “beach read” category”, earning it: