Book Review: Sisterland

sisterland

“We all make mistakes, don’t we? But if you can’t forgive yourself, you’ll always be an exile in your own life.” –Curtis Sittenfeld, Sisterland

Title: Sisterland
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Format: Audiobook
Reader: Rebecca Lowman
Publisher: Books on Tape
Publication Date: June, 25, 2013
Source: My local public library

Synopsis:

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”–innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.

Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that a devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. More troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister, and truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

–From Goodreads

My Thoughts:

In my 20+ years of reading, I have generally run across four types of books: 1) the kind that start out great and keep you hooked all throughout, 2) the slow-starters that make it worth your while in the end, 3) the slow-starters that never live up to their promise (and make you rue the day you ever saw that blasted book cover!), and last but not least 4) the kind that start out amazing (“Oh my goodness this is going to be a 5-star read!”) and let you down so much that you feel bitter every time you think about them. Sadly, Sisterland falls into the last category for me. It was all going so well until it wasn’t…

Initially, I picked up this book because it seemed like it would combine a story about a strong sisterly bond with some sort of mysterious event. I have a sister whom I’m very close to and I like to read books that examine the amazing and complicated web of relations that arise when you have a sister. But even I can admit that the sibling story can be a bit stale after awhile, so why not add in a little mystery? Sounds perfect, right? Right. Well the “mystery” quickly takes a backseat, and the book becomes a character study with little to no plot progression. This would probably turn some readers off, but I actually like a good character-driven story so I kept reading.

The story is told entirely through Kate’s perspective, both in the present and through flashbacks. In the present, Kate is a mother to two young children and wife to Jeremy. She describes (the story is told in first person) the struggles and rewards of motherhood and homemaking while also trying to rein in her less-conventional twin sister Violet (Vi). In the flashbacks, Kate describes her past and especially her relationship with Violet.  Although these flashbacks are a bit lengthy at times, they provide a lot of insight into the current state of Kate and Vi’s relationship. Kate is serious about her responsibilities and wants to “blend-in” while Vi loves to stand out and be spontaneous. These sisters clearly love each other and are always there for one another, but they rarely see eye-to-eye.

Some reviewers have commented that Kate is “boring,” but I disagree with this assessment. I found her to be interesting, sometimes humorous, compassionate, and honest. She felt real, almost as if she was someone I knew in real life. In my opinion, these character-driven sections are the best part of the book. Sittenfeld’s prose is sharp and spot on.

However, during the last 1/3 of the book the “action” begins and things just go from bad to worse. Many of the things that occur in this section of the book are not only implausible, but just completely unbelievable. It was incredibility disappointing to see this story veer from an interesting, character-driven drama to a blase melodrama. Not only is the plot direction Sittenfeld chose way overdone, but in this case it was not even done well. In recent memory, Sisterland is the most disappointing reading experience I can recall.

Admittedly this is probably the harshest review I’ve written yet, which is surprising considering how excited I was about it during the first 2/3 of the book. Seriously, it was a 4-5 star read until “the big event” and all the ridiculousness that followed. I’ve looked through reader comments and it seems nearly everyone agrees with me. I’m not sure I’d recommend this book to anyone. It has its bright moments, but these are overshadowed by a poorly thought-out ending.

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 2/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The strong character-driven sections (basically the first 2/3 of the novel)
  3. What I didn’t like: The ending (*shudders*)
  4. I would recommend this book for: People who enjoy family melodramas

***

Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. biblioglobal
    Nov 10, 2014 @ 20:10:11

    I’ve read a couple of books by Curtis Sittenfeld. I feel like the topics of her books are really interesting, but I haven’t gotten that excited about them when I’ve actually read them. I probably won’t read this one!

    Reply

  2. Trackback: November and December 2014 Recap | Ex Libris

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