Sisterland

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST NOVELS OF THE YEAR BY
Slate • Daily Candy • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Guardian (U.K.)

“Novelists get called master storytellers all the time, but Sittenfeld really is one. . . . What might be most strikingly excellent about Sisterland is the way Sittenfeld depicts domesticity and motherhood.”—Maggie Shipstead, The Washington Post
 
Psychologically vivid . . . Sisterland is a testament to [Curtis Sittenfeld’s] growing depth and assurance as a writer.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“[Sittenfeld’s] gifts are in full effect with this novel, and she uses them to create a genuinely engrossing sense of uncertainty and suspense.”—Sloane Crosley, NPR’s All Things Considered

Curtis Sittenfeld, 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.

Praise for Sisterland
 
“What’s most captivating about Sisterland is the intimate, intense portrayal of identical twin sisters. . . . [The novel] unfolds like a good prophecy—inevitable and shocking.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“The accomplished Sittenfeld . . . is as skillful as ever at developing an intriguing premise and likable characters. . . . Sittenfeld’s affectionate take on sibling rivalry is spot-on.”—People
 
“The power of [Sittenfeld’s] writing and the force of her vision challenge the notion that great fiction must be hard to read. She is a master of dramatic irony, creating fully realized social worlds before laying waste to her heroines’ understanding of them. . . . Her prose [is] a rich delight.”—The Boston Globe
 
Wise and often wickedly entertaining . . . Readers who have siblings—especially women with sisters—will likely come away feeling as if the author really is psychic.”—USA Today

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Kate and Violet are identical twins who were born with paranormal abilities. For professional psychic Violet, the gift has become her cash-cow vocation; for wife and mother Kate, this innate talent is a matter of deep secrecy. Her attempts to hide her special sight begin to unravel after both sisters return to their hometown of St. Louis. Violet senses that a major earthquake will soon hit, but Kate not only believes that her sibling is right; she intuits that she herself knows the exact date. The events that happen next rumble less through the city and the media than through the sisters' relationships with one another and their families. An unconventional, powerful novel about family ties.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
Ms. Sittenfeld…manages to make [the sisters'] day-to-day relationship palpably real, capturing the alternating waves of loyalty and passive-aggressive competition that animate their every exchange. She shows us the anxieties and insecurities that underlie the choices the sisters have made throughout their lives, and makes us feel the weight of shared history that they carry in their hearts…Ms. Sittenfeld proves equally adept at capturing the rhythms of Kate's daily life with her husband and their children…The author gives us an Updikean portrait of life in Kate and Jeremy's comfortable St. Louis suburb that is every bit as well observed as the world of private school evoked in Prep…her portrait of Kate—much like her portrait of the Laura Bush-like heroine of American Wife—is so psychologically vivid that the reader easily overlooks the slick story line…Sisterland is a testament to the author's growing depth and assurance as a writer.
Publishers Weekly
Delicious insights into sisterhood and motherhood are peppered throughout Sittenfeld’s novel about identical twins with ESP. The story, though, isn’t as convincing as the twins, who are rendered so vividly that readers would be able to pick them out of a crowd. Kate, a stay-at-home mom in St. Louis, Mo., is embarrassed by her sister Violet, who ekes out a living as a psychic. After a minor earthquake in the area in September 2009, Violet’s guiding spirit warns her that a major quake is imminent. When Kate has a premonition that it will occur on October 16, she allows Violet to share the date with the public if she doesn’t reveal its source. Kate tells the story in chapters that alternate between timelines, one beginning with the September quake and one beginning when the twins are born. As a narrator, Kate is introspective and mostly honest, but the backstory is weighed down with unnecessary details and crucial questions remain unasked. As the clock ticks toward October 16, Violet attracts widespread media attention and Kate pleads with her husband not to leave her and their children at home to attend a conference in Colorado. Sittenfeld (American Wife) offers no fresh perspective on ESP or living with giftedness but delivers a rich and intimate tale of imperfect, well-meaning, ordinary people struggling to define themselves and protect the people they love. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (June)
From the Publisher
“Psychologically vivid . . . Sittenfeld’s gifts for portraying the inner lives of her heroines [bring Sisterland] closer, in terms of emotional chiaroscuro, to two classics about pairs of sisters, The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett and The Easter Parade by Richard Yates . . . Sisterland is a testament to the author’s growing depth and assurance as a writer.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
Novelists get called master storytellers all the time, but Sittenfeld really is one, a kind of no-nonsense, BabyBjörn-wearing Scheherazade. . . . What might be most strikingly excellent about Sisterland is the way Sittenfeld depicts domesticity and motherhood.”—Maggie Shipstead, The Washington Post
 
“[Sittenfeld’s] gifts are in full effect with this novel, and she uses them to create a genuinely engrossing sense of uncertainty and suspense.”—Sloane Crosley, NPR’s All Things Considered

“In [Sisterland], the accomplished Sittenfeld . . . is as skillful as ever at developing an intriguing premise and likable characters. . . . Sittenfeld’s affectionate take on sibling rivalry is spot-on.”—People
 
“The power of [Sittenfeld’s] writing and the force of her vision challenge the notion that great fiction must be hard to read. She is a master of dramatic irony, creating fully realized social worlds before laying waste to her heroines’ understanding of them. . . . Her prose [is] a rich delight.”—The Boston Globe
 
Wise and often wickedly entertaining . . . Readers who have siblings—especially women with sisters—will likely come away feeling as if the author really is psychic, able to learn the truth of their own dark secrets, and forgive them.”—USA Today
 
“Full of quiet, surprisingly relatable moments, [Sisterland is] a thoughtful look at the near-supernatural closeness between sisters. . . . As she did so well in her first novel, Prep, Sittenfeld richly evokes the daily lives of young women who are trying to figure themselves out. . . . Sisterland is a compelling portrait of what it’s like to grow up alongside your best—and worst—self.”—Entertainment Weekly
 
“Arresting . . . Captivating . . . Sisterland is a long story of shake-ups: eerie precognitions, seismic shifts, lapses in fidelity. Like life itself, it graphs both the agonizing longueurs of domestic life and the horrific thrill of sudden disasters. . . . Character is [Sittenfeld’s] great strength, and the moral complexity of ordinary life her main subject. . . . Sisterland unfolds like a good prophecy—inevitable and shocking.”—San Francisco Chronicle

The New York Times Book Review - Ann Leary
Mistaken identity makes for great farce, and, paradoxically, identical twinship provides a way to examine what makes us different. Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel, Sisterland, offers an intriguing look at what it might be like to have a double.
Kirkus Reviews
Her psychic sister's prediction of a major earthquake unsettles a St. Louis woman's life in the latest from best-selling Sittenfeld (American Wife, 2008, etc.). Although identical twins Violet and Daisy Shramm as girls both had "the senses," Daisy suppressed her abilities as part of her transformation into ordinary Kate Tucker, wife to Washington University professor Jeremy and mother to toddler Rosie and baby Owen. She's mortified by being related to a professional psychic and appalled when Vi publicly contradicts seismologist Courtney Wheeling, who says a small quake that rattles St. Louis in September 2009 is not necessarily a prelude to a bigger one. Courtney is Jeremy's colleague, and her husband, Hank, also a stay-at-home parent, is close with Kate's. Vi is oblivious to the messy reality of life with small children, and we frequently see her imposing on her overwhelmed sister while condemning Kate (not without justification) as uptight and controlling; it's a skillful way for Sittenfeld to spotlight the differences that make the twins' interactions so fraught. The present-day narrative, moving toward the date Vi set for the big quake, intertwines with Kate's memories of childhood and adolescence to explain why she felt so threatened by her powers--and to reveal a marriage as fraught in its own ways as Kate's bond with Vi. Jeremy is exasperated by his wife's anxieties, which sometimes threaten to dominate their lives; she feels inferior to her better educated, more relaxed spouse. The novel has some structural problems; scenes from the twins' past take up more pages than their intrinsic interest merits and sometimes annoyingly interrupt the compelling main story. These flaws are insignificant compared with the powerful denouement: a shocking yet completely plausible act by Kate and its grim consequences for her marriage. The quiet closing pages remind us that damaged bonds can be repaired. A rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction's smartest, most perceptive practitioners.
Library Journal
Identical twins Kate and Vi (Violet) were born with scattershot psychic abilities. As grown women, living wildly divergent lives in St. Louis, they are inextricably tied to each other in cranky, frustrating, and often combative ways. Narrator Kate has worked hard to mask her "sixth sense" by transforming herself into an ordinary wife to loving, even-keeled husband Jeremy and mother of two adorable kids, but she has enormous insecurities. Kate and Jeremy's neighbors are Courtney (who is also Jeremy's colleague) and her stay-at-home husband Hank, who is Kate's best friend. Vi is an exuberant, self-centered self-promoter who gives psychic readings for a living. When an earthquake rattles St. Louis in September 2009, Vi's prediction that a much bigger one is on the way gains national traction, setting off a media circus and geographic panic. As well, Kate's reluctant, growing involvement in Vi's life leads to a shocking, seismic disruption on her home front. VERDICT Any one of the many themes in this latest novel from Sittenfeld (Prep and American Wife) would make for a riveting story. The author turns conventions on their collective head and creates a world that is familiar, maddening, alluring, and, ultimately, guardedly hopeful.—Beth Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400068319
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/25/2013
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of the novels Prep, The Man of My Dreams, and American Wife, which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Her nonfiction has been published by The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Allure, and Glamour, and broadcast on public radio’s This American Life. She graduated from Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Biography

Before her debut novel Prep hit bookshelves, Curtis Sittenfeld promised her ninth-grade English students that if the novel hit the New York Times Bestseller list she would buy pizza for the class. Well, I hope that her class enjoyed those pizzas, because Prep, a wry coming-of-age story set in a New England boarding school, became a surprise sensation upon its publication in 2005.

Sittenfeld knows the insular world of boarding schools all too well. When the precocious writer was a pre-teen, a recruiter from the exclusive prep school Groton came inquiring about Sittenfeld at her Cincinnati home. Curious about embarking on what she saw as a potential adventure, Sittenfeld decided to attend the school. As she told the Washington Post, "I just became enthralled by the idea of boarding school, and it happened to coincide with this period where I was restless and ready for a new adventure, in a 13-year-old's kind of way. I was just curious about the world. I wanted a change."

That change she sought would eventually become material for her first novel, the witty, insightful bestseller Prep, in which a smart and singular 14-year-old named Lee Fiora finds herself at the fictional Ault prep school near Boston. The shift from a life at home with a loving family to the elite Ault, with its pretty, pampered, yet cynical teenagers, is an eye-opening experience for Lee, whose wariness of their little society does not stop her from drifting into it. In her debut novel, 29-year old Sittenfeld already displayed a sure-handedness with character and dialogue that many of her older and more seasoned contemporaries would surely envy. Little did the high school English teacher know that her first novel would become such a runaway success, being that it had been rejected 14 times before finally being picked up by Random House. "One editor actually called my agent and turned it down, and then she called my agent back and said, 'I've never done this but I want to un-turn it down'," Sittenfeld says. "And then, she called again and turned it down." That editor is quite likely kicking herself now that Prep has not only made it to the New York Times bestseller list, but has received raves right down the line: The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Publisher's Weekly, etc. The New York Times named it one of the ten best books of 2005. Paramount Pictures has optioned its film rights. Sittenfeld's sophomore effort is The Man of My Dreams, yet another coming-of-age story, this time using a dysfunctional household rather than a ritzy prep school as the backdrop. The Man of My Dreams follows Hannah Gavener for over a decade, detailing the travails of her friendships, familial relationships, and therapy sessions. The book is yet another example of Sittenfeld's gift for crafting fully dimensional characters and blending drama and humor. Only recently published, The Man of My Dreams is already receiving accolades from the likes of The Library Journal and acclaimed short story writer Alice Munro. Who knows, Curtis Sittenfeld may even have to buy another round of pizza for her class.

Good To Know

A few fun facts about Sittenfeld from our interview:

"I eat so much fruit that my friends and family tease me about being a monkey."

"I have trouble staying awake past 10:00 p.m."

"I have a big crush on Bruce Springsteen (but then, who doesn't?)."

"When I was in junior high, my parents said they'd let me get my ears pierced if I made honor roll every quarter. And not to brag, but I did."

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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 23, 1975
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cincinnati, Ohio
    1. Education:
      B.A., Stanford University, 1997; M.F.A., University of Iowa (Iowa Writers’ Workshop), 2001
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

9781400068319|excerpt

Sittenfeld / SISTERLAND

Chapter 1

September 2009

St. Louis, Missouri

The shaking started around three in the morning, and it happened that I was already awake because I’d nursed Owen at two and then, instead of going back to sleep, I’d lain there brooding about the fight I’d had at lunch with my sister, Vi. I’d driven with Owen and Rosie in the backseat to pick up Vi, and the four of us had gone to Hacienda. We’d finished eating and I was collecting Rosie’s stray food from the tabletop—once I had imagined I wouldn’t be the kind of mother who ordered chicken tenders for her child off the menu at a Mexican restaurant—when Vi said, “So I have a date tomorrow.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Who is it?”

Casually, after running the tip of her tongue over her top teeth to check for food, Vi said, “She’s an IT consultant, which sounds boring, but she’s traveled a lot in South and Central America, so she couldn’t be a total snooze, right?”

I was being baited, but I tried to match Vi’s casual tone as I said, “Did you meet online?” Rosie, who was two and a half, had gotten up from the table, wandered over to a ficus plant in the corner, and was smelling the leaves. Beside me in the booth, buckled into his car seat, Owen, who was six months, grabbed at a little plush giraffe that hung from the car seat’s handle.

Vi nodded. “There’s pretty slim pickings for dykes in St. Louis.”

“So that’s what you consider yourself these days?” I leaned in and said in a lowered tone, “A lesbian?”

Looking amused, Vi imitated my inclined posture and quiet voice. “What if the manager hears you?” she said. “And gets a boner?” She grinned. “At this point, I’m bi-celibate. Or should I say Vi-sexual? But I figure it’s all a numbers game—I keep putting myself out there and, eventually, I cross paths with Ms. or Mr. Right.”

“Meaning you’re on straight dating sites, too?”

“Not at the moment, but in the future, maybe.” Our waitress approached and left the bill at the edge of the table. I reached for it as soon as she’d walked away—when Vi and I ate together, I always paid without discussion—and Vi said, “Don’t leave a big tip. She was giving us attitude.”

“I didn’t notice.”

“And my fajita was mostly peppers.”

“You of all people should realize that’s not the waitress’s fault.” For years, all through our twenties, Vi had worked at restaurants. But she was still regarding me skeptically as I set down my credit card, and I added, “It’s rude not to tip extra when you bring little kids.” We were at a conversational crossroads. Either we could stand, I could gather the mess of belongings that accompanied me wherever I went—once I had been so organized that I kept my spice rack alphabetized, and now I left hats and bibs and sippy cups in my wake, baggies of Cheerios, my own wallet and sunglasses—and the four of us could head out to the parking lot and then go on to drop Vi at her house, all amicably. Or I could express a sentiment that wasn’t Vi, in her way, asking me to share?

“I believe in tipping well for great service,” Vi was saying. “This girl was phoning it in.”

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—” I glanced at my daughter right as she pulled a ficus leaf off the plant and extended her tongue toward it. I had assumed the plant was fake and, therefore, durable, and I called out, “No mouth, Rosie. Come over here.” When I looked back at Vi, I couldn’t remember what I’d wanted to say next. Hadn’t I had another point? And Vi was sneering in a way that made me wish, already, that I’d simply let the moment pass.

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

“That’s not what I said.”

“Don’t you think it would be easier if black people hadn’t demanded to ride in the front of the bus like white people? Or go to the same schools? That was so awkward when that happened!” This seemed to be an indirect reference to my friend Hank, but I ignored it.

“I don’t have a problem with gay people,” I said, and my cheeks were aflame, which I’d have known, even if I hadn’t been able to feel their heat, by the fact that Vi’s were, too. We would always be identical twins, even though we were no longer, in most ways, identical.

“Where’s Rosie’s baloney?” Rosie said. She had returned from the ficus plant—thank goodness—and was standing next to me.

“It’s at home,” I said. “We didn’t bring it.” The baloney was a piece from a lunch-themed puzzle, a life-sized pink wooden circle on a yellow wooden square, that Rosie had recently become inexplicably attached to. I said to Vi, “Don’t make me out to be homophobic. It’s a statement of fact that life is simpler—it is, Vi—don’t look at me like that. It’s not like two women can get married in Missouri, and there’s a lot of financial stuff that goes along with that, or visiting each other in the hospital. Or having kids—for gay couples, that’s complicated and it’s expensive, too.”

“Having kids period is complicated!” Vi’s anger had taken on an explosive quality, and I felt people at nearby tables looking toward us. “And this whole making-life-simpler bullshit?” she continued. While I flinched at the swear word in front of Rosie, it didn’t seem intentional—there was no question that Vi sometimes liked to provoke me, but it appeared she was swept up in the moment. “Children are nothing but a problem people create and then congratulate themselves on solving. Look at you and Jeremy, for Christ’s sake. ‘Oh, we can’t leave the house because it’s Rosie’s naptime, we can’t be out past five forty-five p.m.’ or whenever the fuck it is—” I was pretty sure Rosie had only a vague notion of what these obscenities, or anything else Vi was saying, meant, but I could sense her watching rapt from beside me, no doubt even more enthralled because she’d heard her own name. “Or, ‘She can’t wear that sunscreen because it has parabens in it’—I mean, seriously, can you even tell me what a paraben is?—and ‘She can’t eat raw carrots because she might choke,’ and on and on and on. But who asked you to have children? Do you think you’re providing some service to the world? You got pregnant because you wanted to—which, okay, that’s your right, but then other people can’t do what they want to because it’s too complicated?”

“Fine,” I said. “Forget I said anything.”

“Don’t be a pussy.”

I glared at her. “Don’t call me names.”

“Well, it seems awfully convenient that you get to speak your mind and then close down the discussion.”

“I need to go home for their naps,” I said, and there was a split second in which Vi and I looked at each other and almost laughed. Instead, sourly, she said, “Of course you do.”

In the car, she was silent, and after a couple minutes, Rosie said from the backseat, “Mama wants to sing the Bingo song.”

“I’ll sing it later,” I said.

“Mama wants to sing the Bingo song now,” Rosie said, and when I didn’t respond, she added in a cheerful tone, “When you take off your diaper, it makes Mama very sad.”

Vi snorted unpleasantly. “Why don’t you just toilet train her?”

“We’re going to soon.”

Vi said nothing, and loathing for her flared up in me, which was probably just what she wanted. It was one thing for my sister to fail to appreciate the energy I put into our lunches, the sheer choreography of getting a six-month-old and a two-year-old out of the house, into the car, into a restaurant, and back home with no major meltdowns (never in my children’s presence could I have ordered a meal as intricately, messily hands-on as a fajita), but it was another thing entirely for Vi to mock me. And yet, in one final attempt at diplomacy, as I stopped the car on the street outside the small single-story gray house where Vi lived, I said, “For Dad’s birthday, I was thinking—”

“Let’s talk about it later.”

“Fine.” If she thought I was going to plead for forgiveness, she was mistaken, and it wasn’t just because we really did need to get home for Rosie and Owen’s naps. She climbed from the car, and before she shut the door, I said, “By the way?”

A nasty satisfaction rose in me as she turned. She was prepared for me to say, I didn’t mean to be such a jerk in the restaurant. Instead, I said, “Parabens are preservatives.”

Fourteen hours later, at three in the morning, our squabble was what I was stewing over; specifically, I was thinking that the reason I’d made my points so clumsily was that what I really believed was even more offensive than that being straight was easier than being gay. I believed Vi was dating women because she was at her heaviest ever—she’d quit smoking in the spring, and now she had to be sixty pounds overweight—and most lesbians seemed to be more forgiving about appearances than most straight men. I didn’t think I’d object to Vi being gay if I believed she actually was, but something about this development felt false, akin to the way she’d wished, since our adolescence, that she’d been born Jewish, or the way she kept a dream catcher above her kitchen sink. Lying there in the dark next to Jeremy, I wondered what would happen if I were to suggest that she and I do Weight Watchers together; I myself was still carrying ten extra pounds from being pregnant with Owen. Then I thought about how most nights Jeremy and I split a pint of ice cream in front of the TV, how it was pretty much the best part of the day—the whole ritual of relaxation after both children were asleep and before Owen woke up for his ten p.m. nursing—and how it seemed unlikely that half a pint of fudge ripple was part of any diet plan. This was when the bed in which Jeremy and I slept began to shake.

I assumed at first that Jeremy was causing the mattress to move by turning over, except that he wasn’t turning. The rocking continued for perhaps ten seconds, at which point Jeremy abruptly sat up and said, “It’s an earthquake.” But already the rocking seemed to be subsiding.

I sat up, too. “Are you sure?”

“You get Owen and I’ll get Rosie.” Jeremy had turned on the light on his nightstand and was walking out of the room, and as I hurried from bed, adrenaline coursed through me; my heart was beating faster and I felt simultaneously unsteady and purposeful. In his crib, illuminated by a starfish-shaped night-light, Owen was lying on his back as I’d left him an hour earlier, his arms raised palms up on either side of his head, his cheeks big and smooth, his nose tiny. I hesitated just a second before lifting him, and I grabbed one of the eight pacifiers scattered in the crib. As I’d guessed he would, he blinked awake, seeming confused, but made only one mournful cry as I stuck in the pacifier. In the small central hallway that connected the house’s three bedrooms, we almost collided with Jeremy and Rosie, Rosie’s legs wrapped around Jeremy’s torso, her arms dangling limply over his shoulders, her face half-obscured by tangled hair. Her eyes were open, I saw, but barely.

“Do we go to the basement?” I said to Jeremy. The shaking had definitely stopped.

“That’s tornadoes.”

“What is it for earthquakes?” In retrospect, it’s hard to believe I needed to ask, hard to believe I had reached the age of thirty-four and given birth to two children without bothering to learn such basic information.

Jeremy said, “In theory, you get under a table, but staying in bed is okay, too.”

“Really?” We looked at each other, my husband sweet and serious in his gray T-shirt and blue striped boxer shorts, our daughter draped across him.

“You want me to check?” He meant by looking online from his phone, which he kept beside the bed at night.

“We shouldn’t call Courtney, should we?” I said. “They must have felt it if we did.” Courtney Wheeling was Jeremy’s colleague at Washington University—his area of study was aquatic chemistry, hers was seismology and plate tectonics—and she and her husband, Hank, lived down the street and were our best friends.

“It doesn’t seem necessary,” Jeremy said. “I’ll look at FEMA’s website, but I think the best thing is for all of us to go back to bed.”

I nodded my chin toward Rosie. “Keeping them with us or in their own rooms?”

Rosie’s head popped up. “Rosie sleeps with Mama!” A rule of thumb with Rosie was that whether I did or didn’t think she was following the conversation, I was always wrong.

“Keeping them,” Jeremy said. “In case of aftershocks.”

In our room, I climbed into bed holding Owen, shifting him so he was nestled in my right arm while Jeremy helped Rosie settle on my other side. I wasn’t sure whether to be alarmed or pleasantly surprised that Jeremy was all right having the kids sleep with us. In general, he was the one who resisted bringing them into our bed; he’d read the same books in Rosie’s infancy that I had, half of which argued that sharing a bed with your kids was the most nurturing thing you could do and the other half of which warned that doing so would result in your smothering them either figuratively or literally. But I liked when they were close by—whether or not it really was safer, at some primitive level, it felt like it had to be—and the thought of them sleeping alone in their cribs sometimes pinched at my heart. Besides, I could never resist their miniature limbs and soft skin.

Rosie curled toward me then, tapping my arm, and I turned— awkwardly, because of how I was holding Owen—to look at her. She said, “Rosie wants a banana.”

“In the morning, sweetheart.”

Jeremy had gone to the window that faced the street, and he parted the curtains. “Everyone’s lights are on,” he said.

“A monkey eats a banana peel,” Rosie declared. “But not people.”

“That’s true,” I said. “It would make us sick.”

Jeremy was typing on his phone. After a minute, he said, “There’s nothing about it online yet.” He looked up. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s more asleep than awake, but will you get an extra binky just in case?” Surely this was evidence of the insularity of our lives: that unless otherwise specified, whenever Jeremy or I said he, we meant our son, and whenever we said she, we meant our daughter. On a regular basis, we sent each other texts consisting in their entirety of one letter and one punctuation mark: R? for How’s Rosie doing? and O? for How’s Owen? And surely it was this insularity that so irritated Vi, whereas to me, the fact that my life was suburban and conventional was a victory.

Jeremy returned from Owen’s room with a second pacifier, handed it to me, and lay down before turning off the light on his nightstand. Then— I whispered, because whispering seemed more appropriate in the dark— I said, “So if there are aftershocks, we just stay put?”

“And keep away from windows. That’s pretty much all I could find on the FEMA site.”

“Thanks for checking.” Over Owen’s head, I reached out to rub Jeremy’s shoulder.

I felt them falling asleep one by one then, my son, my daughter, and my husband. Awake alone, I experienced a gratitude for my life and our family, the four of us together, accounted for and okay. In contrast to the agitation I’d been gripped by before the earthquake, I was filled with calmness, a sense that we’d passed safely through a minor scare—like when you speed up too fast in slow highway traffic and almost hit the car in front of you but then you don’t. The argument with Vi, inflated prior to the quake, shrank to its true size; it was insignificant. My sister and I had spent three decades bickering and making up.

But now that several years have passed, it pains me to remember this night because I was wrong. Although we were safe in that moment, we hadn’t passed through anything. Nothing was concluding, nothing was finished; everything was just beginning. And though my powers weren’t what they once had been, though I no longer considered myself truly psychic, I still should have been able to anticipate what would happen next.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. What and where is Sisterland? If you have a sister, do you see any of your own relationship with her reflected in the relationship between Kate and Vi?

2. The novel opens with a description of the 1811 earthquake in New Madrid, although everything that follows is set in the near-present. Why do you think the novel begins in this way? How does the historical context change how we see Kate’s story?

3. Do you believe that people can have psychic powers? Have you ever experienced strong intuitions about events that happened later?

4. Do you understand why Kate tries to escape her powers? Would you prefer, like Kate, to be normal, or to be special, like Vi?

5. Kate transforms herself from Daisy Shramm to Kate Tucker. How do names define and shape us?

6. Near the end of the novel, Kate and Vi make an important discovery about their “senses” that upsets everything they thought they knew. Were you as surprised by this revelation as the twins? How do you think it might change their understanding of their childhood?

7. Do Kate and Jeremy have a good marriage?

8. Were you surprised by Kate’s choices at the end? How will her family’s life in the future be different from what it was in the past? Do you think it’s plausible that she can continue to conceal her secret indefinitely?

9. Twins are intriguing to many people. Do you think the interest they elicit is justified? Have you known twins in your own life? If you are a twin, did Sittenfeld’s portrayal of them strike you as realistic?

10. Have you read any of Curtis Sittenfeld’s other novels? If so, do you think this one is like or unlike her earlier work?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 94 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(29)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(15)

1 Star

(15)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 94 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 25, 2013

    I went Back To The Future in this gem of a novel. Although it sa

    I went Back To The Future in this gem of a novel. Although it saddens me to think in fifty years teenagers probably won’t get many of the pop culture references, I’ve decided to live in the moment, or the recent past, as this novel clearly does. With The Simpsons, American Idol, Letterman, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Rolling Stone, Christina Aguilera, The Fugitive, “The Way You Look Tonight,” Today, Animal House, Spin Doctors, Blues Brothers, Monty Python, Good Morning Vietnam, Mannequin, and The Exorcist, they somehow all managed to “Take My Breath Away.” But this novel has more staying power than Cool Ranch Doritos, Wonder Bread topped with butter and cinnamon sugar, and gonorrhea.

    Kate and Vi Shramm both have extrasensory perceptions (ESP), along with being identical twin sisters, although each chooses a much different path. While Vi chooses to embrace her powers and attack the spotlight like she wants to ensure she receives every minute of her fifteen minutes of fame, Kate shies away from her powers like she might have caught an STD from some overzealous frat boy. Both seem sexually experienced in my limited knowledge of the world, but for entirely different reasons. Vi uses her assets, in this case ample breasts, as a weapon to manipulate unsuspecting male suitors, and in some cases, just for the hell of it, tossing around hand jobs and sexual favors like ice cream cones to six year-olds, while Kate takes a more reserved approach to sex, except when gentleness, kindness, or bouts of uncontrollable passion cause her to expose her naughty bits.

    Kate was the more likeable character, except I did have a few moments of displeasure with her over the course of the novel. Vi, however, was self-absorbed, hypocritical, irrational, contradictory, only acted in her own best interests, constantly passed judgment, and sometimes experienced what might be considered sociopathic tendencies. So I didn’t mind poking around in Kate’s head for some 400 odd pages or so. Had Vi been the real star of the show, though, I might have had an entirely different opinion of SISTERLAND.

    I received this book for free through NetGalley.

    Robert Downs
    Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    I had a sense it would disappoint...

    ...and it did. From the horrible thing that happened in middle school through to the end, the buildups were never satisfyingly resolved.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    Loved it...until I hated it.

    It was a great premise and an easy read, if you don't mind the smallest things being overwritten. I think my favorite thing about the book was the familiarity to me of the locations, and that's truly a lame reason to to love a book. I tried so hard to ignore all the stereotypes Ms. Sittenfeld employed, and there are many, but what ultimately made me realize how I felt about the book was her sloppy attempt at wrapping the story up. Booo....I expected better.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2013

    This book is literally the entire life story of the character Da

    This book is literally the entire life story of the character Daisy. If you want to read a book about a stupid stay at home mom who just complains about her psychic powers, then this book is for you. I thought that the psychic-ness would make it interesting, but it didn't. Even that dragged on. 

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    Disappointing

    I saw this book listed on list for 10 ten best selling book. Not sure how it made the list as it was the worst book I have read in years. I kept waiting for the storyline to get better but it dragged so much I started skimming. Don't waste your money on this book!

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 26, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Kate and Vi are identical sisters who have the unusual ability t

    Kate and Vi are identical sisters who have the unusual ability to sense future events externally and in people’s lives.  While Vi totally embraces this ability, Kate has had a memorable experience that leads her to avoid even thinking about her ability.  The two sisters are very close, as identical twins very often are, but begin to grow apart as Vi becomes more and more strange, bohemian, and just plain shocking in her behavior, much to the consternation of Kate and her husband.
    In the present, Vi’s job as medium increases as her TV appearance coincides with a scientist’s talk about a potential earthquake.  Given the public’s fascination with the weird and disastrous, it is Vi’s prediction that goes viral.  As the ramifications of this exposure grow daily, Kate must confront her past and the development of Vi’s “gift,” with all of its confusing and complex realities.  And so the story reverts to the past, to how both sisters recognized they could sense things, their discovery of its familial origins, and their attitude to it all.  Vi uses it, amazingly in one specific case that gets public exposure, and Kate just wants to be “normal.”  
    Weaving back and forth between the past and present, the sisters’ stories weave with reality.  Kate in particular is dealing with a relationship with two dear friends, one of whom will be dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and the other being more than just a friend for a brief time.  Nothing is simple it seems, but could these experiences have been predicted, prevented, or developed in a different way? Silence is often as important as speaking when considering loyalty and betrayal, but the line can be thin indeed as Kate and Vi learn.
    Curtis Sittenfeld’s presentation of characters is excellent, exploring the overt and covert connections that develop relationships, that which binds and severs closeness, the multiple random and deliberate misunderstandings that so strongly affect both one’s past and future life, the humor vital to defusing hot moments and drawing closer, and so much more!  This is an intriguing read of contemporary fiction with elements of mystery that totally engage the reader into the story until the very last page! Very well-done, Curtis Sittenfeld!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 4, 2013

    This book is a long, and very slow build up to a couch sex scene

    This book is a long, and very slow build up to a couch sex scene. No story, no character development occrs unless mindless stay at home mommy banter is what you consider a plot. I give this book a zero. Go back to your prepschool Library job Ms. Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfield because you are about as creative as a rock.

    3 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is my first Curtis Sittenfeld novel and I thoroughly enjoye

    This is my first Curtis Sittenfeld novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    The synopsis sounds like this would be a very interesting read.

    The synopsis sounds like this would be a very interesting read. It's not. It's boring. A good book to read at bed time because it'll put you right to sleep.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2013

    Deeply disturbing

    Although i loved the story of the sisters bond, which is truly what the book is about. The twist at the end left me very disturbed and disappointed. It seemed gratuitous and unnecessary with everything else going on. A good read, but not a light summer read by any means...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2013

    Boring book with no plot.

    Boring book with no plot.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 15, 2013

    I think this book lived up the the critics reviews and the hype

    I think this book lived up the the critics reviews and the hype of release. I really enjoyed the story although I'm not a mom so the details about Kate's kids lives didn't interest me very much. The story of the sisters is touching and real. I don't have a twin but I do have 2 sisters so I understood and related to their complex relationship. The book kept me engaged the whole time and I found myself not wanting to put it down. I would recommend this book and I will look for other titles from C. Sittenfeld.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2014

    Predictable and pretentious

    The author simply could not
    help himself and fell into the ignorant trap of calling conservatives racist. Too bad Obama isn't a better example of enlightment and intellectualism and black exceptionalism.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 26, 2014

    I enjoyed reading this book because it is different than what I

    I enjoyed reading this book because it is different than what I normally read and because the storyline makes you think. All throughout the book Kate kept thinking about how selfish her twin Violet is but I feel that she is the one who is selfish. She only worried about herself and what others thought of her. She was so willing to deny a part of her heritage and wanted her sister to do the same. Every time there was a problem, her solution was just not to talk about it and pretend nothing ever happened. When she finally does marry the right guy, Kate still makes up excuses about everything going on around her instead of taking responsibility. With Violet's earthquake prediction, I do agree that October 16th was a date that was going to affect Kate's life, not the rest of the city or nation like how she believed it would be. There was still no excuse for what Kate did behind Jeremy's back and I'm glad the consequences were some that she could not ignore. I just think that it is sad that Gabe had to suffer for Kate's actions. I think the book is well written and I am definitely lending this book out to friends and family to read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2014

    Good rrad Good read

    Love the writers style.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2014

    I loved this book.

    I loved "Prep" and I so enjoyed this book as well. Once I start a Sittenfeld book I can't quit until I'm done. I continue to look forward to new works from Curtis Sittenfeld.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2014

    Gsus

    I love this book is awsome:!:!!!!!!:!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 27, 2014

    I enjoyed this book.

    I enjoyed this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 12, 2014

    This book was a good read. 

    This book was a good read. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2014

    I just could not get into this book. It dragged on and on. I r

    I just could not get into this book. It dragged on and on. I read other books by this author and really enjoyed this. This book just missed the mark.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 94 Customer Reviews

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