121 of 128 people found the following review helpful
Curtis Sittenfeld's SISTERLAND is ostensibly the story of twin sisters born with precognition. Violet and Daisy grew up understanding that they had "senses," meaning the ability to foresee future events. As an adult, Violet (or Vi) embraces those senses, and makes them part of her everyday life - she aids the police in a kidnapping case and does readings for paying clients. Daisy (who changes her name to Kate during college) rejects her senses, and makes every effort to become a normal housewife raising two young children. When Vi senses that their hometown of St. Louis will suffer a massive earthquake on October 16, both her life and Kate's are thrown into chaos. Suddenly, a world-wide TV audience is obsessed with Vi, and Kate has an increasingly difficult time trying to seem normal.
But while the sisters' precognitive abilities form the backdrop of this story, SISTERLAND really has little to do with precognition. Do Vi and Kate really possess extra-sensory powers? Sittenfeld isn't particularly concerned with this. Kate's scientist husband, Jeremy, never really believes any of it - he sees Vi as a humorous eccentric and Kate as an over-protective mom who caters to her freaky sister out of a sense of twin loyalty. Similarly, Kate and Jeremy's best friends - geophysicist Courtney and her stay-at-home husband, Hank - don't put much credence in anything Vi has to say. But everyone gets along well enough, in spite of it. As October 16 approaches, some in St. Louis make plans to leave town, others have "Earthquake Parties," and Vi plans to milk her fifteen minutes of fame for all it's worth. But Kate, Jeremy, and their friends try to go on doing what they always do.
SISTERLAND is really the story of two very different sisters who have the kinds of baggage most of us have - a distant and depressed mother, a silent father, lousy boyfriends, and a whole lot of confusion over who they really are. Kate is the narrator, and as such we see what happens from her perspective as she does everything she can to deny her so-called senses (just as she denies her birth-name, Daisy). Everything about Vi embarrasses Kate - Vi is sixty pounds overweight, wears Birkenstocks, loves the attention her predictions bring her, and she's experimenting with a lesbian relationship. Kate just wants to be a better mom to her kids than her own mom was to her, and a good wife to her husband, with whom she loves sharing a pint of ice cream at the end of an exhausting day. There's no place in Kate's ordinary suburban life for Vi's supernatural mumbo-jumbo, and no way Vi will ever be down-to-earth enough to be ordinary.
This is a very readable novel, and I enjoyed Kate's story up to a point - but I must admit I found Vi more interesting. Had Sittenfeld given us both women's perspectives - and had she been more open herself to the possibilities inherent in extrasensory perception - this might have been a more successful novel. As it is, I tired of Kate's flashbacks and memories, all of which painted her as insecure and lacking in courage. Additionally, Sittenfeld takes her story in a disappointing direction during its final act, a direction that simply doesn't seem true to the characters as written. Kate does something at the end of this novel that would be more fitting in a Lifetime movie (or maybe a Jodi Picoult book) - in fact, Kate herself admits, "this was a situation from a soap opera." I found myself saying "Oh no, oh no, oh no!" out loud as this development unfolded - it came so totally out of left field, and set in motion a series of depressing developments that simply shouldn't have happened.
In a way, SISTERLAND reminded me of Jane Hamilton's MAP OF THE WORLD, a somber tale of suburbia gone wrong. I suppose Sittenfeld is suggesting that there's a real danger in complacency, and that any of us can take a turn in the road that leads us to disaster. Earthquakes don't always involve geology, I guess. But this is a novel that starts out as an interesting story of two sisters living very different lives, and ends up as a cautionary tale about getting too comfortable with our routines and our normalcy. I didn't buy what happens to Kate at the end of SISTERLAND, and in that lies the novel's weakness. The last seventy pages just seem forced and unbelievable. Sittenfeld is too good a writer to let that happen.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2013
It is very rare for me to be so wrapped up in a book that I read the entire thing in one day, but I couldn't put this one down. Then, when I finished it, I decided to read some of the customer reviews to see if other people felt the same way I did. Wow. So glad I didn't read them before I read the book, because after reading the one and two-star reviews, I'm afraid they might have convinced me not to bother with Sisterland. While a lot of the negative reviews were intelligently written and made some valid points, for the most part they seem to have been written by people who completely missed the point of the book. Some were frustrated because they wanted to read a book about psychic abilities, especially psychic twins, and that is only sort of what the book is about. It's about two sisters who may or may not be legitimately psychic, but whether they are or not, they believe that they are. This belief causes them to follow vastly different paths and lifestyles - one twin embraces her "abilities" and nurtures them in a way that is not always healthy, while the other twin runs from what she perceives as a curse, which causes her to behave in ways that aren't all that healthy either.
Other people were annoyed because they were expecting a book about an earthquake, which is only marginally what the book is about. While the book does contain actual earthquakes, the big earthquake is also a symbol of several events that shake the internal foundation of the characters. Some of the earthquakes are metaphorical. Several people also complained about the twist at the end, claiming it was unrealistic and there was no foreshadowing leading up to it. These observations made me wonder if we had all read the same book, because I felt that the foreshadowing started almost immediately and was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. I read the entire novel with a vague sense of dread, because the foreshadowing made it so obvious that something terrible was going to happen. When that terrible thing was finally revealed, it was gut-wrenching. Without giving anything away, I just have to say that I didn't guess what the final twist would be, but I completely understood what lead up to it and didn't find it unrealistic in the least. Maybe this is because I'm acquainted with people in real life who have made similar mistakes in their lives and with far less logical reasons.
There have been a few complaints in the negative reviews that do have some validity, but they are minor issues in the overall scheme of things. Yes, the author does refer to Down Syndrome as Down's Syndrome, which makes me wonder if the publisher employs any proofreaders, but I feel that way about a lot of books. And, let's face it, most of the population misspells the name of this particular disorder, so it's likely that if the book had spelled it properly, most people would have thought THAT was a misprint. Others complained about the illogical reasons given for Vi experimenting with lesbian relationships, claiming that the reasons made no sense and could be offensive to the LGBT community. To that, I would say that while I have many gay friends who certainly didn't choose to be gay, I also personally know several unstable young women who claim to be bisexual simply because of the attention the statement gets them. There is no question that Violet is an attention-seeker who frequently gets the attention she craves by saying and doing things for the sole purpose of getting under the skin of the people close to her. I know a few Violets, and there isn't much they won't do to shock people. It's what they do for entertainment. I found Vi very believable.
The complaints I find most valid are (1) Kate/Daisy is a little whiny and insipid, but I didn't really mind that because I understood her motivations and I sympathized with her, and (2) Rosie, her toddler, spoke in an annoying manner that didn't seem realistic. This I have to agree with, because I've never heard a toddler speak that way, but maybe there are some who do, so big deal. As far as the book touching on psychic themes without actually being a book about psychic ability, I really liked the way it was handled. It suggests that these abilities might be real, but leaves enough ambiguity that one could draw the conclusion that the twins aren't really psychic so much as they are extremely observant and perceptive people whose predictions are right some of the time. What the book is really about is the complex love/hate relationship between a particular set of twins, and how their belief that they are psychic leads them to make choices they might not otherwise have made, thus leading to consequences that are not always pleasant. In that regard, I found the story fascinating and well-written, and I feel sorry for people who couldn't enjoy the book because they didn't understand what it was trying to say.
143 of 179 people found the following review helpful
I am a reader. It is what I do. I become enamored with, and follow the careers of authors the way others follow movie stars and sports figures. It is my version of being "starstruck". I once attended an event that featured the fascinating, Janet Fitch, author of the critical and commercial success, "White Oleander", and she confided to the audience that even after her phenomenal, successful debut effort, the critical and commercial hit, "White Oleander", her second book had been rejected by her publisher. I was astounded. How could a publisher reject anything written by Janet Fitch? She was honest with her fans that day, telling us that it was just not any good. She hadn't been asked to adjust it, or merely "tweek" it. She had to trash it and start over again. Eventually, Janet published the magnificent "Paint it Black" and everything was fine. But it does bring to mind the fact that perhaps some writers don't have more than one, or at the most two, good books in them. Everyone is familiar with Harper Lee's story. So I guess I should not have been so disappointed, at being so disappointed, in Curtis Sittenfeld's latest offering, "Sisterland". She has previously produced two stellar books. "American Wife" was on my top three of the year list a few years ago...it was fabulous. I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of "Sisterland".
In my current state of being perplexed over this book, I want to avoid calling it a "hot mess". But I can't. Sittenfeld has mixed so many themes here and produced so many conflicting and ambiguous points of view (not to mention mind numbingly preposterous events occurring-- following one of Violet's "visions" the "Today Show" calls...pleease...) that I just have to think that she threw this one together like a last minute pot of soup. A little of this, a dash of that, and what ever else is left in the fridge that isn't totally ready for the trash bin. We are introduced to identical twins, Daisy and Violet. Daisy (who will change her name to "Kate") names her amazingly irritating little girl "Rosie". You knew that already, didn't you? The twins are psychic. Or as the perfectly well educated Daisy/Kate describes it, they have "senses". Daisy also experiences a condition she refers to as "anxious heart". Just don't ask me what this is. Daisy and Violet have a contentious relationship. Daisy is embarrassed by their "senses", Violet embraces the situation. Basically Daisy is cute enough and socially acceptable, but Violet is a big, disgusting, pig, who smokes like a chimney, enjoys bathroom humor, and becomes a lesbian because she has gained 60 pounds and dating men is "hard" (Reeealllly, Vi...? I wonder if the LGBT community will be pleased with this analogy) Their dad is a nice older man, but their mother is disengaged and does not seem to like them very much. I didn't either, so I was kind of on her side. Although, in fairness, the author does not offer us much back story here, to give us a pathology of the parent's malaise...so we are left in the weeds. I hate it when bad parenting is introduced into the narrative, but no one cares enough to investigate Mom and Dad's "story".
I will not continue to try to explain this roadkill to you. But I must comment on the trend of young motherhood being described as nothing but a whine fest. Daisy/Kate has a nice husband who adores her, a great home, and the privilege of being able to quit her job and stay at home with her two babies. Apparently our girl, Daisy/Kate hasn't read a newspaper for several years, many mothers are not able to experience this luxury these days. She complains wildly and none stop about having to care for these little ones until I thought I would scream. Boy, could I tell Daisy a few tales of desperate young motherhood that would curl her hair. Where is the nuance? When a sentence in the book that I am reading starts with, "After I drained the noodles"...I know I have found myself in the middle of the wrong book.
I realize that it is not necessary to like the protagonists in a book or to identify with them to enjoy the story. But I do expect them to have at least an interesting bone in their bodies. There is just not one character to be found in this group of misanthropic, poorly adjusted, individuals, making one abysmal life decision after another, that could spark even a little interest for me...and if one or two got close, Sittenfeld immediately failed to develop the aura of the character...everyone got short shrifted here. Especially the reader. Skip this one.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2013
I read this book because it looked promising. I enjoy stories about sisters, and twins, and psychics. I ended up reading the whole thing, even though I wanted to stop several times. The story started out well, but became tedious. It was very well-written, so I kept expecting the plot to pick up and get me hooked. This could have been a good book, but overall I think it was nonsensical and slightly boring. Especially toward the end- the main character acted like a whole other person and made me want to slap her silly. This book ended up reeking of oppression and repression, self-pity, and meekness. I now regard it as a waste of my time, because although I gave the story a determined chance, it did not live up to its potential.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2014
I can't believe that I wasted time reading this. The concept of twins and ESP pulled me in , but that's as far as it went. It always seemed to be building up to something that never happened. The last couple chapters of the book didn't seem to fit with the first 90%of the book, it was as if the author merged 2 different books together at the end just to get it finished!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2013
This book dragged and dragged. The author bores the reader with the most banal details of everything from changing a diaper to making a sandwich. The novel could have easily been 100 pages shorter and that might have made it more readable. The premise of the story is that twin sisters have "senses" or precognitions. While this might, and I say might, have resulted in an interesting story, the author changes course approximately 3/4 through the novel and throws in a twist which was completely unnecessary and unbelievable. It seemed as though she did not know how to end this novel, and chose to go the soap opera route. Disappointed.
30 of 41 people found the following review helpful
I've read Prep and American Wife, and loved them both, but Sisterland is far better than either of them, and that's not putting them down. Sisterhood is just a fantastic novel.
A brief plot sum-up---Kate and her twin Violet both have what their family calls "senses", and what is usually called psychic abilities. Violet predicts that an earthquake will hit Saint Louis, where they live, on a certain date. As the sisters wait to see if that prediction plays out, their lives are impacted in many ways by the fame and by the worries that the prediction brought about. But there's far more here than that. We learn about Kate's whole life, and about especially her marriage to Jeremy, and her children, and how one fateful decision she makes creates huge consequences. It's to Sittenfed's credit that she can make huge events and what you would think would be fairly improbable plot elements seem natural. She writes in a unique way I love. There are many details, and the tone is even, which allows me to completely jump into her world. I felt upset when the book was over in a way I haven't felt for years. I wanted to still know Kate and her family. I wanted to hear what happened next, not in the way you want a sequel to a good book, but in the way you feel about friends you've lost touch with.
As a side note---I also loved the portrayal of what it's really like to have a baby you are nursing. I haven't found that in a lot of books, and it's so much woven into the plot here that it took me a little while to appreciate how well done it was.
If you are interested in any number of topics---earthquakes, twins, ESP (although don't be turned off by this---this book in no way has a "new age" feel), marriage, babies, toddlers..and many more, or if you just like a novel you can really lose yourself in, this is a must read.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2013
I found myself totally drawn in to this story of two sisters who may or may not have psychic abilities, and the prediction of one that a major earthquake is going to hit the city in which they live. The narrator of the story is an at-home mother of two young children. She struggles with the day to day issues of life with kids, the added challenges of an aging father who is somewhat dependent on her while not wanting to be, and an identical twin sister who works as a psychic and with whom the narrator has an ongoing love-hate relationship. There is also a slightly complicated childhood with a depressed mother, remote father, and some mild middle school teasing. I enjoy reading about people that I can relate to dealing with complications in their lives and the idea that the narrator could end up dealing with protecting her children from the aftermath of a major earthquake was compelling. I also wondered where the author was going to go with the story if the earthquake didn't happen. It was one of those rare books where I couldn't see exactly what was going to happen in the end, and I looked forward to finding out.
Alas, the ending turned out to be very frustrating and disconcerting because the narrator suddenly does something that makes no sense given everything that we have previously seen and been told about her and her life. Through the entire book we have been hearing the narrator's point of view. It is impossible for the ending to happen the way it did. Even now, two weeks after finishing the book, I still find myself thinking of ways that the author could have written the book so that this pivotal part of the book made sense!
I can't decide whether I recommend this book or not. It really was a great and compelling read, but that ending was so jarring that it totally spoiled my enjoyment. I decided to give it one star because people are more likely to read a one star review than a three star review and I think every reader should know that the ending is very irritating.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2013
I bought this book because as a St. Louisan, I like to read stories with a local angle to them. Plus, I have long been interested in earthquakes, and to a lesser extent, the prediction of them.
Let me preface this by saying I'm a guy. That being said...
...as it turns out, the novel isn't really about earthquakes or earthquake prediction. It's about catty little girls, catty teenagers, catty women, babies, kids, sex, relationships, shopping, raising kids, sick kids, injured kids, more shopping, walking around in parks, the joys of being a stay-at-home mom, betrayal, marriages, infidelity, etc. Men make appearances, but mostly as distractions. There's also a lot about kids. Did I mention kids?
There are virtually no likable characters. The first-person "protagonist", Kate, is an empty vessel. She is so unsure of herself that she even uses two names. Her main accomplishment in life appears to have been marrying well. She floats through life, letting her husband support her, only to eventually betray him in the absolutely worst way imaginable. (Seriously). Instead of earthquakes, we get to hear about day-to-day "mommy" life in excruciating detail. Though the novel takes place in St. Louis, we never hear much about the actual city. We hear lots about Target, Starbucks, The Galleria, and so forth instead.
(To her credit, the author gets most local references right, with the puzzling exception of a reference to the "Pine Street Bridge", which is obviously the Poplar Street Bridge.)
If Kate was a real person, she'd be one of those folks who posts way too many kid pictures on Facebook and makes every conversation kid-centric. She'd be a regular subject of ridicule on the "STFU Parents" blog. (Think: "mommyjacking.")
Eccentric twin sister Vi is a bit more colorful and likable, even though she appears to be a slob and a bit of a freeloader. I wonder what LGBT folks think about the author having Vi consciously decide to become a lesbian well into adulthood, after letting herself go and plumping up? Seems a bit offensive. But at least Vi has an interesting personality, and supports herself (more or less.)
The tragic character is Jeremy, Kate's picture-perfect husband. He dotes on her and gives her everything and appears to be the perfect father for her children. And how does Kate repay him? Not to give too much away, but let's just say that at the end of the book, Jeremy is cuckolded, vasectomized (literally, when perhaps only figuratively before), and left raising a third child that doesn't look like him. Get it? Maybe it's some girl's romantic dream to really crap on a guy like that and watch him just take it, but it doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps it's his fault for putting up with it, which makes him pathetic, not tragic.
Basically, after reading this book, I felt a little dumber. I felt like I'd just read a vacuous woman's diary from junior high through adulthood, and most of it was superficial and shallow. There are plenty of flashbacks to childhood and young adulthood, also written in excruciating detail. One of the characters from junior high (Marissa) seems to have been introduced solely so Kate can feel morally superior to her when she runs across her again in adulthood. And why does Kate "win" in that scenario? Because Marissa isn't married yet, see, and she thinks her boyfriend is just stringing her along. If ONLY Marissa could get married and accomplish everything that Kate has! Yep, Kate really got revenge on Marissa for picking on her back in junior high. Kate sure showed her.
I ended up thinking Kate was possibly the worst person on the planet. I was hoping for some exciting ending, like Jeremy throwing her out on the curb with only the clothes on her back. Or, maybe "Guardian" would end up being an evil spirit, possessing Vi and making her savagely axe murder everyone in sight.
But no, we get no such ending. Kate's "punishment" for her misdeeds is to be moved to a new town where her breadwinner will be working at an Ivy League school instead of just the most prestigious school in St. Louis. Kind of a slap on the wrist.
Curtis Sittenfeld may have a man's first name, but she's definitely a chick. And this is definitely a chick book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2014
It is one of the few novels I did not finish. I got bored with the main character describing how she cared for her children. Been there-done that. Did not have to read about it.