If you knew an earthquake was coming to your neighborhood, would you leave town? Curtis Sittenfeld uses this premise in Sisterland while addressing how siblings are never alike – except when they are. Adding to the drama, the sisters in the book – Violet and Daisy – are twins with psychic powers or maybe just a sharper sense of intuition.
The story moves back and forth from the girls’ childhood in the seventies of St. Louis, Missouri to present day, with Violet’s fifteen minutes of fame, including an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, when she predicts an earthquake on a specific date in the midwest town. Although both girls share more than a sisterly connection, branding their room “sisterland” as well as their unusual gift for understanding and knowing the others’ thoughts as a shared sister land, only Violet progresses to adulthood as a paid medium. Daisy, now Kate as an adult, marries a geophysicist, has two children, and burns any possibility of lingering extraordinary “senses” in a silver bowl after her daughter is born. Although the plot line is melodramatic and, at times, more like a soap opera, Sittenfeld downplays the psychic talent and concentrates on the descriptions of daily life for the sisters. Kate, the responsible twin, counters Violet’s behavior as the free spirit. Yet, they understand each other, and share a unique communication that is realistic and engaging.
The sisters’ connections with family and friends add to the drama. Courtney, the slim, intelligent seismologist and colleague of Kate’s husband, provides a counterpoint for the sisters’ less prestigious career choices. Courtney’s stay-at-home husband creates a confidante for Kate. Jeremy, the handsome university professor husband, manages his life with Kate and his strange sister-in-law with patience and detached realism, until the possibility of the earthquake threatens to undermine his attendance at an out-of-town conference. His decision to leave, despite his sister-in-law’s warning and his wife’s pleading, leads to a figurative earthquake at home.
Knowing whether or not the real earthquake actually happens would spoil the anticipation that keeps the narrative moving – and kept me reading. More importantly, the drama that unfolds shakes the story and leaves behind extraordinary aftershocks. The book can be long-winded at times, but an easy, entertaining read.