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Sisterland: A Novel Paperback – May 6, 2014
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER NAMED ONE OF THE BEST NOVELS OF THE YEAR BY Slate Daily Candy St Louis Post Dispatch The Guardian U K Novelists get called master storytellers all the time but Sittenfeld really is one What might be most strikingly excellent about Sisterland is the way Sittenfeld depicts domesticity and motherhood Maggie Shipstead The Washington Post Psychologically vivid Sisterland is a testament to Curtis Sittenfeld s growing depth and assurance as a writer Michiko Kakutani The New York Times Sittenfeld s gifts are in full effect with this novel and she uses them to create a genuinely engrossing sense of uncertainty and suspense Sloane Crosley NPR s All Things Considered Curtis Sittenfeld author of American Wife and Prep returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity loyalty and deception and the delicate line between truth and belief From an early age Kate and her identical twin sister Violet knew that they were unlike everyone else Kate and Vi were born with peculiar senses innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people s secrets Though Vi embraced her visions Kate did her best to hide them Now years later their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St Louis Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium while Kate a devoted wife and mother has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St Louis area Kate is mortified Equally troubling however is her fear that Vi may be right As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she s long tried to deny Funny haunting and thou
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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.
This is not so much a story about the experiences of psychic sisters but one rather of two sisters who often clash in their values and outlook on life. Growing up together in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, Daisy and Vi took different approaches to their psychic abilities. Daisy downplayed it while Vi did not care what people thought. These senses were not encouraged by either parent and their mother all but ignored the fact that they were different in that way. As Daisy grew older she chose an academic path and later focused on becoming a wife and mother while Violet dropped out of college and embraced the gift by becoming a full fledged psychic medium for hire.
The story focuses on present day where Daisy (now known as Kate since changing her name in college to avoid any reference to her adolescent "witch" days) is a wife and mother. Violet is a business card carrying psychic medium. Kate is perfectly content in her simple life and tolerates her sister's insistence on practicing her gift. But then one day she turns on the local television news to see her sister being interviewed about her premonition of a major earthquake along the New Madrid fault line. Although Kate is irritated that her sister is bringing such attention to a possible event in her home town, she is also concerned about the premonition because Violet has never been wrong about any of her premonitions. Violet can't pinpoint a date of the earthquake, only that it will be severe.
At just under 400 pages, this story is a bit drawn out. There seems to be a lot of gratuitous information that isn't integral to the story of the sisters' relationship. Daisy/Kate's flashbacks are told without fluidity. None of the characters are fully developed either. I don't get a sense that the people around Kate really know who she is because Kate has spent her adult life in denial of what makes Kate, Kate. At any rate, I didn't care for Kate or her sister Violet. They just didn't come across as interesting characters. In fact, the entire novel came across as a memoir and not fiction. There was no real "story".
Although it felt like with each page turned I was not making any progress, I stuck with it to find out if Kate came to terms with who she is. It was worth it to make it to the end but I haven't been this happy to have come to an end of a book in a long time. I don't think I will be looking into reading anything more from this author.