Monday, January 27, 2014


Sisterland  by Curtis Sittenfeld

(Borrowed the audiobook from my local library) 

It's very difficult to describe this book.  It's the story of identical twins from a seriously dysfunctional family, dealing (or not) with their psychic abilities.  But, this doesn't scratch the surface.  Daisy dabbled with her abilities in her early teens and had a pretty bad experience.  From that point on, she didn't trust that she was getting the information from a benign spirit and decided to shut off that part of herself.  She also wound up being branded, along with her sister, as witches.

Violet, having hit a crossroads in her life at the beginning of college, wound up feeling that she had an entity she referred to as Guardian, looking out for her and making her feel safe to really use her gift.  Violet and Daisy (who began referring to herself as Kate when she got in college, to definitively separate the unhappy teen from her fresh start into adulthood) have diametrically opposed feelings about their "senses", although when Vi has senses about big things, Kate's provide a lot of information, although she prefers to stay in the shadows.

Kate and her husband Jeremy have two small children and are living in St. Louis, fairly near to where the Schramm girls grew up. When an earthquake shakes the town one night, Vi and Jeremy's very stiff and intellectual colleague and friend are both interviewed on the news.  Vi believes that there's another earthquake coming and word and panic start to spread.  Kate believes that she has wished away her powers, but senses the date for the impending crisis.

As the days, leading up to the fateful date pass, we follow Kate as she navigates her world.  Glimpses into her relationships with her husband, their best friends, their children, her father and often flaky sister as they move through the calendar.  

This book is not at all what it seems. This isn't the story of an earthquake, it's the story of a family.  Sittenfeld has this bizarrely amazing way with descriptive writing. Normally, the mundane and everyday little pieces of life make groanworthy prose.  You read, thinking to yourself, "enough already."  But, somehow Sittenfeld brings all those tiny details of life into crisp focus and they flow.  As I listened to Sisterland, I remembered how this same fact struck me while I read Prep.  Things that I couldn't imagine anyone bothering to write, seemed natural and necessary.  I may be in the minority thinking this way.  There are tons of people on goodreads who really had a problem with this level of detail.

Kate made a plea to the universe to take away her senses.  There are so many instances in the book that make you wonder.  Between her very real issues with anxiety and her belief that she has psychic abilities and her motherhood and its accompanying concern for her children, how can she know what's sense and what's worry?  Her prophetic dreams come true, but rarely as she interpreted them.

The reader is given ample evidence to question or confirm the twins' abilities. Kate is not a hero, just a human. She has gifts and talents and plenty of issues.  If we are unforgiving of our female protagonists, as a few articles I've read of late suggest, I can see people having problems with this book.  All of the women here are deeply flawed, but aren't most people?  I liked that Sittenfeld brings us small everyday moments of doubt and sadness and worry and mistakes, along with the hope and love and joy.  

In the end, this isn't a book about psychic twins so much as the story of one woman and the very small world in which she's wrapped herself.


Judy Krueger said...

Nice review! I loved this book.

JoanneMarie Faust said...

Thanks, Judy. I really enjoyed it, too.