Published by Random House
Publication date: June 25th 2013
Violet and Kate are identical twins but they share an even more unusual connection, both are psychic (or as they prefer to call it “having the senses”). They realize their gift at a young age but when it gets out, becoming taunting and being called witches in school, Kate hides her abilities. Violet revels in them and grows up to use them as a source of income after her sight helps locate a kidnapped boy. Kate prefers a quieter life as a happily married stay-at-home mother of two young children. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld is a study in their relationship to each other and to this unasked-for ability.
In the fall of 2009 Kate and her husband are awakened by tremors in their house but the activity is so slight it doesn’t even wake up their children. Unfortunately, this small earthquake will go on to create a much more destructive force in their lives when Violet calls into a local television station to announce that the small quake is merely a prelude to what will be a massive upheaval in the very near future. Suddenly, all that Kate covets—peace, quiet, anonymity—begins to rapidly disappear. Her husband is a professor at Washington University in Saint Louis and one of his colleagues, Courtney, who is also a family friend, is a professor of seismology. Violet’s prediction directly contradicts her knowledge and information about seismic activity in the area, creating tension between them and making Kate, once again, embarrassed by her sister and her own hidden sight. The situation is exacerbated when it is Kate who sees an exact date for the earthquake and Violet appropriates it and shares it with the media, creating a furor that goes international.
Larger than life topics such as forces of nature and psychic abilities are not the only ones explored by Sittenfeld in Sisterland. Chapters pass with a daughter trying to help her aging father, an interracial couple dealing with racial prejudice, marital concerns, and the ever present past for both Violet and Kate with a mother who was almost wholly disengaged from their lives. With delicate skill and insightful prose Sittenfeld looks at the many shades of relationships and the subtle manueverings it takes to keep everything in balance. Kate is torn between the common sense science of her husband and her belief in her sister’s senses, as well as her own glimpse of the future. How far should she go to protect her family from what she believes will happen?
Much like an earthquake, Sisterland has a surface story but it is the activity taking place below the surface that propels the plot and ultimately, results in a series of events on a more human level that will stun the reader. Sittenfeld performs an amazing sleight-of-hand that lulls the reader’s mind into one direction then throws back the curtain to reveal that what was perceived, what was interpreted to be the danger is not the case at all. As even the strongest of structures is shifted and leveled by an earthquake so will readers find themselves dazed by the time the dust settles in Sisterland.