Yes Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel is about psychic twin sisters. But before you start imagining two spectacularly turbaned crystal-ball readers, this isn’t the pulpy book you think it’s going to be. Full of quiet, surprisingly relatable moments, it’s a thoughtful look at the near-supernatural closeness between sisters, even those who’d rather not know what’s going on inside each other’s heads.
Ever since they were kids, identical twins Kate and Violet Shramm knew they could predict the future. But Kate learns to hide her premonitions, hoping to lead a ”normal” life as a wife and mother, while Violet talks about her gift openly, even though it’s made her an outcast. When Violet has a vision that an earthquake will rattle St. Louis on Oct. 16, she comes forward with the news, appearing on talk shows like a professional medium. Kate is mortified — mostly because it makes her question her own issues with ”the senses.” As the big day approaches, both sisters are haunted by the experience of defending someone who is exactly like you and, at the same time, nothing like you.
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. One of the best chapters perfectly captures how a visit from Violet destroys the brand-new image Kate has created for herself in college. The double-edged connection between the two will ring true to anyone with siblings: Violet judges Kate for giving up on her career and staying home with the kids, and Kate rolls her eyes at Violet’s eccentricities, but they’re bonded to each other forever, building tension with anyone on the outside.
In the end, the question of whether the earthquake will happen isn’t as interesting as the sisters’ relationship. Sittenfeld creates too many convenient coincidences — Kate’s friend happens to be a prominent earthquake expert — and the final revelation feels more like a metaphorical device than a satisfying conclusion. But if you can get past all that, Sisterland is a compelling portrait of what it’s like to grow up alongside your best — and worst — self. The tragedy for these twins is that they can’t always tell the difference between the two. B