Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld – 8/10

“She and her brothers are clustered around the picture of Jeremy and me, examining it with the combination of disdain and curiosity we all feel when confronted with evidence of a world that dared to exist before our consciousness of it.”

sisterland

Kate Tucker, previously Daisy Shramm, has made a bargain with the fates to turn her back on her sixth sense in return for a life of normalcy and anonymity. Confronting her every day is her twin sister Violet, who refuses to make the same deal. When Vi predicts a terrible earthquake is going to hit their hometown of St Louis, she becomes a media star, dragging the unwilling Kate in her wake.

Often when supernatural forces are invoked, it feels lazy to me – unless it’s done very, very well, and as in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, that is the case here. This is primarily a meditation on suburban life and family. Kate, bored/stressed housewife, struggles to reconcile her dream life with the non-traditional existence of her twin, left in her wake, eking a living as a psychic medium and trying to decide on a sexuality. The “senses” take a backseat here and are more a vehicle for the plot than the plot itself; providers of the necessary conflict here between Kate and Jeremy, between the sisters, between the sisters and their schoolfriends.

I often criticise these types of novels* for having useless, one-dimensional male characters and that was absolutely not the case here. Jeremy is very different from Kate; while he does the gentle perfect husband a little too well, he’s no doormat. Hank starts out as a wishy-washy sort of character, growing in contrast as the book moves on. The girls’ father is flaky and absent, but nevertheless a very positive, reliable character. All these men are perhaps more forgiving than is realistic.

The style of covering a short period of time in detail as the “now”, interspersed with “thens” progressing in chronological order, works very well here to elaborate on the sisters’ relationship. Although as children the relationship is simple (two against the world), as we move through their puberty and young adulthood, it seems that while Kate is keen to leave behind her “sense”-afflicted childhood, she does so in a fairly condescending way to Violet, then schlepps her around in her life like a burden. In other words, hardly the ode to sisterhood that, say, The Distance Between Us is.

It was only when I looked up the page count that I realised what a long book this is. It did not feel like it when I was reading it. Which perhaps is all the praise it needs.

* these types of novels: novels written by women about the experience of being a woman. Loathe as I am to dip toe into the whirlpool of gender conflict in the literary world, I have to admit that I don’t think this will have a wide readership among men statistically. And thus these things become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Other reviews: Boston Globe, The Guardian

 

Additional information:

Copy kindly provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Random House, 544 paperback pages (I read it as a Kindle edition)
Order Sisterlandfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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3 thoughts on “Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld – 8/10

  1. bookmammal 23 November 2013 at 9:36 pm Reply

    I LOVED American Wife by this author, thought Prep was OK, and don’t have much desire to read this one. I’m disappointed because I thought American Wife was a great premise that was executed well, and I looked forward to more by the author.
    I agree with you about the supernatural element in novels.

    • readingwithtea 23 November 2013 at 9:36 pm Reply

      I think I will have to look up American Wife because lots of people have recommended it!

  2. […] all these types of books (Looking for Me, Sisterland, Meet Me At the Cupcake Cafe, Love Anthony), the writing is easy and munchable without […]

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