Sister Act

Oof. You think the waiting list at the library for a new book is tough? Try putting yourself on the list for a new book that is recommended by Oprah and set in St. Louis! I'm surprised I was able to get my hands on Curtis Sittenfeld's 2013 novel Sisterland before Halloween. Its setting was the big draw. Normally, I wouldn't be that interested in the story of psychic twins who have premonitions of an upcoming earthquake, but toss it into my hometown, and I'm on board, especially if it's not just background, but is constantly referenced. The narrator basically lives a mile from my apartment; she and I shop at the same grocery store. We turn on the same streets. She and my sister attended the same middle school. She dated someone who works for the same car company that someone I'm dating works for. Uncanny!

But as I mentioned, this isn't just St. Louis: The Novel. The narrator Daisy (or Kate, depending on whether she's going by her middle name or not) and her twin sister Violet have always had a sense of the future. Violet has embraced her psychic abilities, while Daisy is embarrassed by them, and has done her level best to bury them. A fundamental difference in how they approach life has made the relationship between the sisters difficult, and things aren't helped when Violet goes on TV to announce that she has had a vision of an earthquake that threatens to level the St. Louis region. Daisy is mortified at the attention this draws to the family, but privately, she agrees that a cataclysm is on the horizon.

The book also does a lot of exploration of Daisy's relationships with the people around her, from her husband and children to her best friend/neighbor to the men she dated in the past. Some of these are more interesting than others. Lots of ink is devoted to routine, everyday childcare, and its tedium surprised me. Not the tedium itself - I don't expect diaper changes and juggling strollers to be fascinating. I'm just surprised so many passages are devoted to it. I don't know if Sittenfeld has children, but on this first pass, it sure seems like she's fallen into the classic trap of believing the banal details of child-rearing are of interest to others.

The story regarding the possibility of the earthquake and the media attention that surrounds it is a lot stronger. Life is going to change for this family whether or not the disaster strikes, and Sittenfeld makes the smart choice to focus on the shifting relationships, rather than a lot of hysterical scenes about impending doom. Credit should also be given for writing a realistic narrator who can, at times, be kind of a douche. It can be tough to straddle the line between an overly saintly protagonist and an overly insufferable one, and Sittenfeld does it well. Daisy has plenty of character flaws, but she's still relatable. The book never reached a point that I was deeply invested, but it was definitely worth the read. Especially if you live in this town. So go read it, and when you're done, we'll go grab some Lion's Choice.

Sisterland: B-


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