Sisterland (Sittenfeld)

Sisterland
Curtis Sittenfeld, 2013
Random House
416 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400068319



Summary
Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling 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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—August 23, 1975
Where—Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Education—B.A., Stanford University; M.F.A., Iowa
   Writers' Workshop
Currently—lives in St. Louis, Missouri


Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld is an American writer, the author of several novels: Prep (2005), the tale of a Massachusetts prep school, The Man of My Dreams (2006), a coming-of-age novel and an examination of romantic love, American Wife (2008), a fictional story loosely based on the life of First Lady Laura Bush, and Sisterland (2013). She has also written a number of short stories.

Sittenfeld was the second of four children (three girls and a boy) of Paul G. Sittenfeld, an investment adviser, and Elizabeth (Curtis) Sittenfeld, an art history teacher and librarian at Seven Hills School, a private school in Cincinnati. Her brother, P.G., is a member of the Cincinnati City Council.

She attended Seven Hills School through the eighth grade, then attended high school at Groton School, a boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts, graduating in 1993. In 1992, the summer before her senior year, she won Seventeen magazine's fiction contest.

She attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York before transferring to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. At Stanford, she studied Creative Writing, wrote articles for the college newspaper, and edited that paper's weekly arts magazine. At the time, she was also chosen as one of Glamour magazine's College Women of the Year. She earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Novels
Prep
Her first novel, Prep (2005), which took her three years to write, concerns a girl, Lee Fiora, from South Bend, Indiana, who goes to Ault School, an elite boarding school near Boston, Massachusetts. Some think Ault is a thinly veiled Groton School, but others say it's based on the two years Sittenfeld spent teaching at St. Albans School in DC. The plot deals with coming of age, self-identity, and class distinctions in the preppy and competitive atmosphere.

Reviews of Prep were mixed, with views ranging from highly laudatory to those who said that it was a well-written but weakly plotted story that was buoyed by strong detail and narration. Some saluted the book for its verisimilitude, including Elissa Schappell, who wrote in the New York Times Review of Books: "Sittenfeld's dialogue is so convincing that one wonders if she didn't wear a wire under her hockey kilt." The New York Times named Prep one of their top five works of fiction for 2005.

Less positively, a review in Publishers Weekly stated, "The book meanders on its way, light on plot, but saturated with heartbreaking humor and written in clean prose. Sittenfeld...proves herself a natural in this poignant, truthful book."

The Man of My Dreams
Sittenfeld's second novel, The Man of My Dreams (2006), follows a girl named Hannah from the end of her 8th grade year through her college years at Tufts and into her late twenties. Both in comparison to Prep and other novels, The Man of My Dreams has gathered mixed reviews with much of the same praise and criticism Prep has garnered.

American Wife
Sittenfeld's third novel, American Wife (2008), is the tale of Alice Blackwell, a fictional character who shares many similarities with former First Lady Laura Bush. Blackwell is an only child who grows up in a Democratic family. As a high school student, Blackwell kills a friend in an auto accident. She also has an illegal abortion and discovers that her grandmother is a secret lesbian. She meets, falls in love with, and marries the wild son of an elite Republican family. Her husband rises in politics to the office of president, and, although Blackwell staunchly disagrees with her husband's politics, she continues to love him.

Sisterland
Her fourth novel, Sisterland (2013), concerns a set of identical twins who have psychic powers, one of whom hides her strange gift while the other has become a professional psychic. Kirkus Reviews called the novel a, "rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction's smartest, most perceptive practitioners." (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/12/2013.)



Book Reviews
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.... Sittenfeld 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.
Publishers Weekly


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.... She's mortified...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.... A rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction's smartest, most perceptive practitioners.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014