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 thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.
CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of Sisterland?
BETH: I’ve had mixed feelings about Sisterland since I read it and am trying to get all my thoughts into order! For starters, the book wasn’t really what I was expecting, although I can’t tell you what exactly I expected when I first read the synopsis. So I guess at first I was a little surprised, but I enjoyed learning more about the twins, Daisy and Vi, and the back story of their lives. I think I enjoyed the story of their early life best, as it was interesting to learn about how the girls dealt with their ESP.
BETH: What did you think of the relationship between the two sisters?
CHRISSI: I thought it was a interesting relationship. Although they are identical twins, I thought that they were polar opposites. I don’t know if this was intentional. Perhaps they were so used to being compared that they (maybe unconsciously) became so different in personality. Yet, they seemed to still have a connection and, in the main part, a good relationship. It was quite fascinating to observe the differences between them. It made me think of the identical twin children I work with at school. They’re completely different too.
CHRISSI: In the story, both the sisters have ESP, although Kate has turned away from it. How important is this element of the plot to understanding the two women?
BETH: The way that both girls deal with their psychic powers is very interesting to understanding their characters. Vi completely embraces her “gift,” and has actually used it to make a living for herself whereas Daisy/Kate has not only ignored her “senses” but has even changed her name so that people from her past do not connect her with what happens. When Vi has a premonition about an earthquake and there is huge media interest, we see Kate shying away from any publicity while actively still trying to support her sister, and Vi seems to thrive on any interest given to her.
BETH: Did you enjoy the more paranormal parts of the story? i.e. the twins psychic abilities?
CHRISSI: Well, yes, I think so. But it seemed so out of place to me. I’m not sure why. I think I was expecting their psychic abilities to have more of an impact on the story. At first, I enjoyed it because I thought that’s where the book was going. But then the earthquake storyline seemed to become side-lined and this is where the story began to fall flat for me. I guess when there’s going to be a paranormal element of the book I want it to be at the forefront of the story. Sisterland is more about the everyday things we do that become part of who we are with a little slither of psychic abilities.
CHRISSI: Did you find it easy to connect to the sisters?
BETH: Unfortunately not, I found it somewhat difficult. I felt quite sympathetic to Vi at times, particularly in their childhood years where Daisy/Kate was often thought of as the more popular, prettier twin, and I think that helped me understand why she was a bit of a wild card in adulthood. With Daisy/Kate, I admired the way that she supported her sister, even though she didn’t always understand or agree with what she was doing, but then something happens that felt out of character for me, and I felt it was harder to connect with this.
BETH: How do you think the subject of Vi coming out as a lesbian was dealt with?
CHRISSI: An interesting question. I didn’t really believe in Vi’s relationship with a woman. I feel like she was doing it to be different to her straight, married twin sister. That might be cynical of me on my part, but it didn’t really ring true for me.
CHRISSI: Do you think Kate’s relationship with her mother affected her own parenting skills?
BETH: The twins relationship with their mother was one of the most interesting parts of the book, and one I wished had been explored further. When the twins were fairly young, their mother sank into a sort of depression and left the girls to do things for themselves, like preparing dinner and then pretending to their father that their mother had made it to disguise the fact that she had been in bed all day. Daisy/Kate seems to be a very good mother to her two children, perhaps she is making up for what she felt she never had, but she is sometimes over-the-top protective and anxious about the two of them. For example, preparing an emergency bag in case something happened and refusing to leave her youngest son, Owen with the baby-sitter.
BETH: How do you think the novel compared to Prep by the same author?
CHRISSI: I didn’t enjoy Prep as much as I hoped, but I gave it 3 stars, much like I’m giving this book. Curtis Sittenfield is a beautiful writer, but I find the plots of the books incredibly slow paced. In Prep, it felt like it took a while for it to get going. Sisterland is an improvement, but it still has that slow pace.
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