CBR-V Review #55: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

I am generally a huge Sittenfeld fan–Prep is one of my favorites, and I read American Wife last year for CBR-IV and liked it a lot–so when I heard she was coming out with a new book, I knew I had to get my hands on it ASAP.

I was SO disappointed.

Sisterland is about Violet (Vi), and Daisy (known almost exclusively as Kate in her adult life), twin sisters who, despite being polar opposites, share one very important trait: they both have ESP. Vi, the hippy-dippy, free-spirited sister embraced her “senses,” choosing a career as a psychic, whereas Kate, the uptight suburban housewife, has effectively banished her gift and never speaks of it to anyone. When Vi (very publicly) predicts a devastating earthquake, Kate finds herself caught up in the chaos, and must evaluate her relationships with her sister, her husband, and her past self.

The more I think about this book, the more I realize how much I disliked it. To start, Kate is the worst. Seriously, I understand having flawed narrators but Kate was totally insufferable. She was petty and totally neurotic and I could. not. stand. her. It was just not fun being inside her head because I found her to just be a really unpleasant person–all she did was complain. It was hard to figure out whether or not I was supposed to like her–I don’t know if Sittenfeld thought she was creating a flawed and complex but ultimately endearing character, or if she knew her protagonist was hateable (which I doubt). Also, there was no plot. The whole plot is basically an excuse for lengthy, in-depth flashbacks of Kate’s childhood and life up until the story’s present, and the actual “action” of the story (the present tense) is like a third of the whole book. And the conclusion is incredibly frustrating, not to mention downright stupid, and eye-roll worthy.

There are definitely some good parts, and I actually think that if Kate’s awful personality had been toned down and the story had been about twins growing up with a secret power, and the effects of that power on their individual selves and their relationship, it could have been way better. But instead, it’s just kind of a soapy mess that is far, far, far from the sharp wit of Prep or the warmth of American Wife. It’s well-written, for sure, and I can’t deny that I was pretty engrossed in the story, but it was ultimately a failure for me.

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