Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Have you ever been to a psychic? I’ve dabbled. They’ve said things, very specific things, that they couldn’t know about me, and therefore I can’t completely rule out the possibility that psychic ability exists. And while much of my formal education has focused on the sciences (and therefore I should dismiss psychic-mumbo-jumbo), I always circle back to the role of ‘gut instinct’ and our sense of intuition. These things can’t be explained simply.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel, Sisterland, focuses on identical twin sisters, Violet and Kate, who are born with psychic abilities. Violet embraces her visions, and Kate does her best to hide them. When Violet appears on television sharing her premonition of a major earthquake striking their hometown of St. Louis, the lives of Violet, Kate and their family and friends are disrupted, as people quickly sought into ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’.

I forgave Sittenfeld’s slightly lazy and convenient character of Ben, Kate’s husband – he’s a scientist, working in a university alongside earthquake experts. I forgave it because it cut right to the point of the book – fact and logic versus the super-natural and impossible to define.

My husband would say that such distinctions matter, that there are ways of conducting research and establishing hypotheses based on credible evidence. My sister would disagree. She would say that we create our own reality – that the truth, ultimately, is what we choose to believe.

Kate’s cautious and judgemental character contrasted against the free-spirited Violet, extending the central theme of the book. It is in their teenage years, that the twins’ attitudes toward their physic abilities diverge and, as the story shifts between past and present, each shift reveals the basis for Kate and Violet’s attitudes and idiosyncrasies.

One scene in particular stands out – Violet turns up unannounced at Kate’s university. Violet, depressed, has stacked on weight, and Kate observes, ‘It would have been mean to see her as a cautionary example, a warning of what would happen if I stopped climbing the StairMaster every day, but after our time apart, both our similarities and differences appeared more starkly to me than they ever had before.’

It’s the sameness and the differences that make identical twins endlessly fascinating, and to observe those similarities and differences about yourself must be so strange.

What I really enjoyed about Sisterland was the sense of time and place created for Kate and Violet’s teenage years. I immediately knew that Sittenfeld and I were roughly the same age because Kate and Violet do exactly the same things as I did.

Often, the movies we picked were ones we’d already seen: The Secret of My Success, which featured a young and handsome Michael J. Fox, or Class, which featured a young Rob Lowe, who was so far beyond handsome, so perfect in every possible way, that it hurt to watch him. In a scene in which he bit into an apple, the juice clung to his lips in a way Vi and I found devastatingly sexy; we’d rewind the video several times per viewing, just to torment ourselves.

There were perhaps one too many plot twists toward the end of the book, and I think they detracted from the suspense of the earthquake prediction, however, it’s a page-turner.

I received my copy of Sisterland from the publisher, Random House, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.


During the week, after school, Vi and I watched vast quantities of television… our two favourite shows were Divorce Court and Santa Barbara, both of which we viewed while eating either Cool Ranch Doritos, Wonder bread toast topped with butter and cinnamon sugar, or tiny pieces of American cheese melted in the microwave onto Triscuits.

I didn’t have Cool Ranch Doritos or Triscuits but cinnamon toast was an after-school staple.



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