Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld

My sister…would say that we create our own reality – that the truth, ultimately, is what we choose to believe.

Twin sisters Kate and Violet couldn’t be more different. Kate – original name Daisy – has worked hard to become ‘invisible’ to create an average life for herself and her family. She is married to Jeremy, a university researcher in aquatic chemistry and is a stay-at-home mum to their two children, Rosie, two and a half, and Owen, six months. Kate and Jeremy spend a significant amount of time with their friends the Wheelings – Courtney is Jeremy’s colleague, researching seismology and plate tectonics; her husband Hank is a stay-at-home dad.

Violet lives alone and works as a psychic, exploiting ‘the senses’ that both her and Kate experience.

As the novel opens, Violet and Kate show how volatile their relationship can be, arguing over Violet’s decision to date women:

I said, “If you feel equally attracted to men and women, why not date men? Isn’t it just easier? I mean, I wish it weren’t true, but – “…

“Easier?” Her voice was filled with contempt. It’s just easier to be straight? As in, what, less embarrassing to my uptight sister?”

That night, Kate’s still stewing over the argument when she feels the bed her and Jeremy share shake. ‘Jeremy abruptly sat up and said, “It’s an earthquake.”

The following morning, Courtney Wheeling appears on the local news channel discussing whether their area is an active seismic zone. Violet also appears:

“Another earthquake is coming soon. A powerful, powerful earthquake.” In voice-over, as footage showed Vi giving a tour of her living room… the reporter said, “Violet Shramm, a self-described psychic medium living in Rock Hill, claims that the tremors St. Louis residents felt earlier today were a prelude to a much bigger earthquake. No, she doesn’t have proof, but in 2004 she helped Florissant police find nine-year-old kidnapping victim Brady Ogden, she publicly predicted Michael Jackson’s death in June – and she says she had a hunch about the quake that happened early this morning.”

Not surprisingly, Violet’s prediction causes consternation. Courtney Wheeling is furious; locals start making plans to either leave town or amass supplies to see them through a day bunkered in their own homes; Kate veers between trying to support her sister and not annoying Jeremy who thinks Violet’s prediction is nonsense.

In Sisterland, Sittenfeld uses the characters of Kate and Violet to explore the lives that we create for ourselves. She looks at the elements of our childhoods that shape our choices in adolescence and adulthood and how it’s the snap decisions we make as adults that really affect our relationships when we’re older. Although it’s Violet’s prediction that sends the characters into turmoil, it is Kate who narrates, meaning that the focus of the novel lies with her and why she’s chosen to ignore her senses.

Sittenfeld uses the earthquake device to create tension, both between characters and for the reader. It will keep you turning the pages, waiting to discover whether the earthquake actually occurs while watching the character’s lives shaking in the process.


Thanks to Transworld for the review copy.

0 thoughts on “Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld

  1. I had never heard of this book but sounds great, especially for a cozy and lazy summer week.

    I do agree we create our own lives which can be both amazing and terrifying. On the one hand, we have a role, so we get to choose, but on the other hand, what if we make the wrong decissions? What I find more interesting about this idea – maybe it’s explored widely in the book? – is how many people even nowadays don’t think they can choose or create their own lives, as if we were born with a personality and a life that we can’t change.

    • I think she does explore that but more from the angle of does it matter how much you try to change? Does ignoring something integral to your personality merely force it to present itself unexpectedly. I think you’d enjoy this anyway.