Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

‘Sisterland’ by Curtis Sittenfeld tells the story of identical twin sisters, Violet and Kate, who have both had psychic powers of intuition, or “senses” as they call them, since childhood.  While Violet continues to embrace this power as an adult and becomes a medium, Kate is a suburban housewife who has tried her best to suppress these senses.  However, when Violet goes on television to share her premonition of a catastrophic earthquake which she says will strike the St. Louis area where they both live, their relationship is seriously tested in the days leading towards the predicted event.

‘Sisterland’ is the first of Sittenfeld’s novels that I have read.  However, I have heard that her fans have approached her latest book with a fair amount of scepticism, mostly because of the supernatural elements in the story which is something that hasn’t featured in her previous work.  Overall, I thought this aspect of the story was not overdone and the concept was handled very well. Vi and Kate’s powers of intuition are neither very clear nor reliable which ensures that there are still some surprises in store for both the reader and the characters.  This also allows the reader to decide for themselves how much they believe in the concept itself.

The “senses” are not the real story here though.  Instead, the main themes of the book are really about family relationships and loyalty. Sittenfeld’s depiction of Kate’s modern domestic life, particularly as a stay-at-home mother looking after her two young children, is very convincing and refreshingly unsentimental.  This is very much Sittenfeld’s strength and the narrative offers some quietly complex insights into ordinary life.  However, I felt that Kate’s relationship with Hank became less and less convincing and consequently, I thought the ending was less satisfying than the rest of the novel, especially as Sittenfeld had built up the tension throughout the story so well.

‘Sisterland’ is a good read if you are looking for a bit of escapism and I found it to be an enjoyable and absorbing tale to read on my commute to work for a few days last week.  I am intrigued by Sittenfeld’s other novels, particularly ‘American Wife’ and also ‘Prep’.  If you have read them, which would you recommend?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

  1. Great review. I’m really interested to read this.
    I’ve read Prep and to be honest didn’t think that much of it, easily forgettable.

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  2. I agree about the ending; I found it to be a huge letdown as I was expecting something “bigger” to happen. However, the everyday scenes were depicted remarkably well: the multitasking stay at home mom, the strained family dynamic, the self-doubt…it all worked for me! I read Prep years ago but don’t remember much about it. Not a favorite, obviously, but I don’t remember hating it either.

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  3. PREP was so good. I love coming of age in a boarding school stories and this fit the bill. American Wife was good as well – inspired by the life of Laura Bush, but Prep is my favorite of Sittenfeld’s books.

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  4. Our Book Club bought Sisterland, but I’ve not yet managed to get my hands on it. Read your review with interest.
    Thus far, no one in our BC has raved about the novel.

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  5. Thrifty Books

    I will have to add this to my reading list! I enjoyed her other books, but this one sounds completely different!

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