Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Sisterland” is her best novel since “Prep,” her 2005 debut. In fact, “Sisterland” may simply be her best novel to date. More strongly plotted than either “Prep” or “The Man of My Dreams,” and less encumbered by character analogs in the real world than “American Wife,” “Sisterland” (Random House, 416 pages, $27) is a domestic drama with a twist.
The twist? Narrator Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet have “senses” that give them insight into people and events. Kate is deeply troubled by this—and by other circumstances of her life, as well—and seeks to destroy her abilities. Violet, on the other hand, fully embraces them. When Violet publically predicts that a significant earthquake will soon rock the St. Louis area, the sisters must deal with the ensuing frenzy. They must also deal with their relationship and with their relationships to those around them, the skeptical and the convinced alike.
That description might make “Sisterland” sound like a supernatural disaster thriller, but it isn’t that at all. Like Sittenfeld’s previous novels, it’s a book about women charting their course in life and love—with all the attendant struggles and uncertainties that come along. Sittenfeld has always been able to take us inside her female characters’ heads in ways both startling and wholly resonant. Rather than detracting from that, the psychic thread in “Sisterland” highlights issues of self-doubt and self-knowledge.
Sittenfeld — a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who will participate in the Iowa City Book Festival in October — has structured the novel perfectly, moving forward and backward in time, allowing us to learn more and more about Kate and Violet as we wonder whether Violet’s predication will come to pass. It’s a page-turner, but not just because there might be an earthquake in the offing. Kate and Violet are captivating characters, and Kate in particular is fully realized. Her story rings true, even at its most mysterious moments.