Kate has always had a sixth sense about things, an ability to predict the future with an uncanny accuracy. But ever since childhood, she’s tried to repress her abilities, while her twin sister Violet pursued them wholeheartedly. Now, Kate’s married with two children, living a “respectable” life, while Violet works as a psychic. When Violet predicts an earthquake will devastate their town of St. Louis and the news media descends, Kate must decide what she believes and must reflect on what family means to her.
Sisterland is, first and foremost, the story of two very different sisters. Kate and Violet were as close as could be when they were young, but they’ve grown apart as they’ve gotten older. To put it bluntly, Kate is completely and utterly embarrassed by her sister, who, in Kate’s eyes, has a farce of a job, is sixty pounds overweight, and loves to make a spectacle of herself. And Violet isn’t exactly accepting of Kate’s choices either; she believes Kate has undersold herself by staying at home with her kids and choosing to turn her back on their senses. And yet, under all that resentment, there is a true bond between these two, and readers know (or at least hope) that, when push comes to shove, they will be there for one another.
Because the reader sees the story through Kate’s eyes, Sisterland is shadowed by her biases and insecurities. From the beginning, it’s clear that Kate is very judgmental, especially when it comes to Violet, and she also has a lot of self-doubt. That doesn’t mean she’s difficult to like; indeed, readers will sympathize with Kate’s dilemmas over the course of the book. Sittenfeld writes characters that leap off the page; readers will appreciate Kate’s imperfections, even as they want her to grow out of her complacency and take a stand.
The story of Sisterland revolves around the earthquake that Violet predicts: will it happen? Will Kate choose to believe her sister, or will she write her off as an attention-seeking quack, as so many others have done, and indeed, as Kate has done for some time? Sittenfeld delves into many different issues here, exploring geological earthquakes, as well as major and minor shifts in life. It’s very well done and easy to read.
Towards the end of Sisterland, Sittenfeld throws a curveball into the plot that is difficult to see coming. It fits in with Sittenfeld’s overall message about earthquakes and huge life changes, but it seemed out of character for Kate and thus wasn’t very believable. Unfortunately, this hampered my enjoyment of the novel, as while I understood why Sittenfeld wanted to throw a wrench into the plot, I didn’t appreciate where it went or how it was done.
Still, in the end, I quite enjoyed Sisterland. It’s a thought-provoking novel that tackles many different topic, from the bond between sisters to the skepticism surrounding psychics. Readers will enjoy delving into Kate’s life and to analyzing the choices she makes, both good and bad. This novel would make an excellent book club pick, as readers will be itching to discuss and dissect this thoughtful read.
Other books by Curtis Sittenfeld: