Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sisterland: Shaking the ties that bind

Posted By on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 7:40 PM

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Get hold of this book. Get thee to a local bookstore, or download it or go to the library and get on the waiting list. You’ll thank me.

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Sisterland (Random House, $27) by Curtis Sittenfeld, is one of those books that you carry with you from room to room, from job to home, stealing moments during commutes and coffee breaks to have a little more time in this fictional world.

Yet it’s not a mystery or a thriller or what the book blurbers like to call a “compulsive page-turner.” It doesn’t use gimmicks or sleights of hand.

It’s just a great story, well told.

Kate and Violet are twins. They were both born with senses — what they call their gift of extra-sensory perception. Violet chooses to use hers. Kate eventually tries to repress her gift, as she does most other things about her past. She was named Daisy — lots of flowers in this book — but reinvents herself as Kate. When she marries and starts at family, she thinks she has left all of that world behind.

The sisters are close — spiritually and geographically. They both live in St. Louis suburbs and while Kate lives the quiet life of a faculty wife, Violet remains single, undecided sexually, and offers the world her services through séances and predictions.

A minor earthquake shakes Missouri in the middle of the night. This is not unprecedented, considering that one of the most violent earthquakes in American history occurred not far from St. Louis, in New Madrid, Missouri. In the aftermath of that tremor, Violet predicts another devastating earthquake in the Midwest, specifying a date. Things begin to change.

Violet becomes a media celebrity, chatting it up with Matt Lauer, hiring a press agent (with her sister’s money) and becoming part of the national countdown to earthquake day.

Violet’s notoriety strains Kate’s most important relationships — with her professor husband, his colleague Courtney and Courtney’s stay-at-home husband, Hank. As professors of science, Kate’s husband Jeremy and Courtney, refute the idea that earthquakes can be predicted with such clarity. Kate is torn between her love of her husband and his logic, and her deeply flawed and aggravating sister she so deeply loves.

It turns out that Violet is right, though not in the way she thought. Something earth-shattering does occur on the date she predicted, but it’s a different kind of trauma — emotional, not geological.

Sisterland is a deep, rich, satisfying novel that surprises at nearly every turn.

Get it.

A former faculty member at the University of Florida, William McKeen now chairs the journalism department at Boston University. He is the author most recently of Mile Marker Zero, Outlaw Journalist and Homegrown in Florida .

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