Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sisterland - Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

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.

As I quite liked Prep when I read it a little over a year ago, when I read the back of the new Sittenfeld novel, I was eager to read it. I love novels that deal with the paranormal and the ambiguities with the social acceptance of it. The idea of these two sisters fighting on opposite sides and dealing with their lives in their own ways sounded really interesting and with the skill that I knew Sittenfeld had, I was happy to try the book out.

The book weaves in and out of the "present" narrative (which is actually three or so years in the past) and the story of Vi and Kate as they grow in a world where they have powers other people don't. They get teased in school, they know things they shouldn't and they deal with an absent mother and a distant father. Kate just wants to be normal, the horrible teasing she goes through in middle school scarring her from embracing her gift while Violet, not great at making friends, finds a guardian spirit (whom she calls Guardian) that she trusts in and fully embraces her gift. 

Kate's family, from her relationship with her father and her sister to her family dynamic with her husband and two children, are very well drawn and feel real. I especially love the way her two year old daughter Rosie's dialogue is written. It's cute and young and innocent without sounding too much like an adult writing a child's voice. 

I was absolutely absorbed in this novel from the first and I eagerly read it before bed and at breaks during work. However, about fifty pages before the end, there was a sudden plot twist that kind of ruined the book for me. I'm a very open-minded reader (as you can tell by looking at all the genres I cover in this blog) but there is one thing that I just absolutely hate reading about and avoid in all my media. And then bam! There it is! In the middle of the book I was really enjoying.

Did this ruin the book for me forever? No, I suppose not. But it did sour the ending of it for me and knock it down a peg. I would have given this a solid four stars had it not been for that plot twist but now I give it more of a three. I loved it. I really did. I just didn't like where it took me.

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