After reading Prep, a novel about the trials and tribulations of a teen girl at boarding school, and American Wife, a novel whose main character is modeled after Laura Bush, I never expected that Curtis Sittenfeld’s next novel would be about psychic sisters.
Despite the supernatural hook, Sisterland is very much in the tradition of Sittenfeld’s previous novels, which feature startling realistic and unflinchingly honest narrators and examine complex family dynamics. Rather than an angsty teenage outsider or a wife who loves her husband but is at odds with his politics, Sisterland centers around Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, who both have “senses” that give them glimpses into the future. While Kate eschews her given name–Daisy–and her psychic abilities for a quiet life in the suburbs raising her two young children as a stay at home mom. Vi, who makes a living as a professional psychic, predicts a massive earthquake and appears on television warning local St. Louis residents, and Kate can’t escape the fallout, or her own premonitions.
But as anyone who has read her previous novels knows, Sittenfeld doesn’t write about just one event, but guides readers through the lives of her characters by weaving together small happenings from different time periods and slowly drawing a story out of these seemingly unrelated events. Though Kate’s complicated relationship with her sister is at the heart of the book, it also explores the complicated dynamics between married couples, and the challenges of suburban life. Though the premise is paranormal, the story is rooted firmly in the everyday experiences of Kate.
What separates Sittenfeld from other novelists is her ability to create rich, inner lives for her characters. Though never quite likeable, they are highly relateable. Sittenfeld manages to make the minutiae of everyday life fascinating, even if everyday life consists of playdates, errands, and the care of infants and toddlers.
The countdown to the predicted earthquake makes for a suspenseful read, but the nature of the earth-shattering events that unfold will surprise readers. I highly recommend this novel to fans of Sittenfeld’s previous work. Fans will also be interested to know that her next project is a book in a series (written by different authors) of modern retellings of Jane Austen’s novels, and Sittenfeld will be tackling Pride and Prejudice.
Sisterland releases June 25th, but you can place holds in the catalog now. I received an advanced copy from Random House for review.