Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Published by Black Swan
1st January 2014
For identical twins, Kate and Violet are about as unlike as two peas from the same pod can be. Except in one respect - they share a hidden gift. But after Kate inadvertently reveals their secret when they are thirteen years old, their lives are set on diverging paths.
Twenty years later Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. Violet is single, and lives a much more flamboyant and eccentric existence. Then one day Violet ignites a media storm by predicting a major earthquake in the St Louis area where they live.
As the day Violet has announced for the earthquake draws nearer, Kate must attempt to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister, and to face truths about herself she has long tried to deny.
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 being sensible and 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 had 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 fiscus 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 picking 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."
Kate and Violet are identical twins, but aside from that, they are completely different. Kate is married with two children, living a suburban lifestyle. Violet is single, bohemian and gives readings to people about their future. One day, Violet predicts that there will be a major earthquake, and this is picked up by America's media. The whole country goes crazy; for what Kate has kept quiet about for the past twenty years, is that her and Violet have psychic tendencies.
The book weaves back and forth from the twins' childhood through to the present day, and how and why Kate decided to hide the gift that she was born with. As the predicted day of the earthquake arrives, I found myself reading faster to find out whether the prophecy would pan out or whether Violet would end up a laughing stock for voicing her opinion so publicly.
Woven into the story are Kate and her husband Jeremy's neighbours and best friends, Courtney and Hank. Courtney works with Jeremy and is an expert in seismology and plate tectonics - an inevitable clash is likely as Courtney's views of the predicted earthquake differ dramatically from that of Violet's. As a stay-at-home mother, Kate spends an inordinate amount of time with Hank on play-dates with their children; surely this can only lead to trouble?
I really like Curtis Sittenfeld's style of writing, since reading The American Wife when it was first published, and Sisterland kept me turning the pages throughout. I have to say I got slightly annoyed by the way two year old Rosie speaks, as my children never used the third person to talk, and I desperately wanted her to be corrected from doing this, but aside from that, I thought this was a good read. Clearly I can't say whether the earthquake prediction pans out, and I don't want to give anything away, but I felt that the book started out with the prediction as it's centre-piece and then filtered into being more about relationships and how, when under pressure, these change, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. After all, if you thought a major earthquake was about to happen, who would you cling to?
I think Sisterland would make a great book group book as there are lots of points for discussion here.