Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: Sisterland

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Why did you choose this book? it is set in St Louis and written by a Missouri author
When did you read this book? May 2014
Who should read this book? readers who like mystical realism or St Louis settings
Source: Goodreads First Reads
Here is a synopsis of Sisterland from Goodreads

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.

My Review

I really liked this one...a lot! I was first drawn to it because it is a ‘sisters’ book AND because it is set in St. Louis. And I was rewarded. I LOVED all the St. Louis details the author included in the novel. I’ve been to almost all of the places she mentioned and have at least heard about most of the ones I haven’t been to! But one of the things that really hooked me once I started reading is the ‘earthquake’ story. In this story, the sisters are identical twins, and have ‘psychic’ abilities. Sister Vi picks up that a major earthquake will occur along the New Madrid fault, and gives a specific date, causing widespread panic. What is so interesting is that this really happened about 25 years ago. The man who made the prediction was not a ‘psychic’ but he did give a date for the earthquake to occur, and unbelievably, at least to me, was that many, many people, including a few of my own friends and relatives and much of the media, took him quite seriously and refused to send their children to school or cross bridges on that December day!  If I remember, Iben Browning, the man who made the prediction was a meteorologist, not a geologist. If you live outside of the midwest, you may not even be aware of the New Madrid fault, let alone the fact that it is responsible for one of the largest earthquakes in US history. It is still active, so even though his prediction was a disservice and did cause widespread unnecessary panic, it also served to make people more aware of the potential damage that will result when ‘the big one’ does occur. Since that time, building standards have been modified and bridges and overpasses have been retrofitted.

Back to the book though…
While the earthquake prediction played a major role in the story, the story was really about relationship. The identical twins respond differently to their psychic abilities with Vi running with it, and Kate running FROM it. Throughout their lives Kate has worked to ‘fit in’ with her peer group, and Vi has alwys been herself, not worrying about how she is perceived by others. This causes tension between Kate and Vi, and stress for Kate as she worries about her friends and family and how they will feel about her once they meet Vi. And of course, the tension builds as the predicted date of the earthquake approaches, causing issues in Kate’s relationship with Vi as well as in her marriage. I am not going to tell you whether or not there is an earthquake, but the events leading up to the predicted date do result in chaos to the sister’s relationships. I was pleased the author with the way the author chose to end the story. I was given enough of a glimpse into the future to know what happens to the characters, instead of being left hanging, wondering about their future.

I really enjoyed this one! If you like story sisters I think you will, too! You can visit Curtis Sittenfeld’s web site for discussion questions and an excerpt of Sisterland.

For more background on the 1990 earthquake prediction by Iben Browning, visit one of these links.

And if you’d like to read more about the 1812 earthquake along the New Madrid fault, you might be interested in Jay Feldman’s When The Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire Intrigue, Murder and the New Madrid Earthquakes.

My Rating:  ★★★★   4 Stars

I received a review copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program in return for an honest review.
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