The thing about Curtis Sittenfeld is that she is a great writer. I was worried when I first read about Sisterland that it was treading into questionable territory. It is a story about two twins with the ability to sense the future. The one twin, Kate, tries to suppress this tendency and live a normal, suburban life as a stay-at-home mom with two kids. Her sister Vi, on the other hand, opts for a flamboyant approach. She becomes a psychic, and gets on national television as she predicts a major earthquake in their home town of St. Louis.
Sittenfeld has developed some really great characters in Sisterland. Vi is completely over the top. I think we all know someone like her in our lives and they make us cringe. But somehow, Sittenfeld is able to convey why Vi is the way she is so that rather than being purely repelled by her, the reader understands her and even sides with her at times. By way of contrast, her twin sister Kate (also known as Daisy) appears to be laudable and upstanding, but then shows a darker side to her character – one that is in someways repellent. This creates a nice interplay on the reader’s emotions as the story proceeds.
Much of Sisterland is centered on the domestic sphere of stay at home parents and trials that entails. As a stay at home mom I thought that was the last thing I wanted to read about. Thankfully, Sittenfeld does not make the role of a full time parent look easy, nor does she trivialize it. She brings issues of race, gender, media overload and paranoia into this realm, where they have as much relevance as anywhere else.
Who would like this book? I don’t think I ever would have picked up this book if it wasn’t by Sittenfeld. I absolutely loved her first novel, Prep, and recommend it to everyone. On the surface, her more recent novels have looked as though they may not appeal to me, but her writing always rescues them from banality. I hate myself for saying this, but at first glance I felt that Sisterland may fall into Jodi Picoult’s territory. It doesn’t. It provides much fodder for discussion and would make a great book club pick.