I’m always a bit skeptical of books about sisterhood, mainly because I only have a brother, and I don’t like feeling left out of the club. My relationship with my brother could be characterized in its early days by lots of arguing and yelling, but now it’s evolved into this great, jokey rapport where he constantly brings up how I dropped a tray of his birthday treats (dirt and worms, of course) on the sidewalk outside school when he was in third grade, and I text his wife pictures of him from his fanny-pack-wearing era.
So yeah, I like my brother, and I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m missing out just because he’s a man with man parts.
The title of this book is disingenuous, I think, because it is about sooooooo much more than sisterhood. Yes, the narrator, Kate, has an identical twin named Violet, and a fair amount of the action centers around their childhood and the complicated relationship they forge as adults. But there’s also marital discord, parental baggage, racial tension, working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, an earthquake, a lesbian relationship, a child abduction…oh, and Kate and Violet are psychic. Woohoo, right?!
Perhaps it’s just my stage in life, being myself a stay-at-home mom with a working husband, but I found Kate to be incredibly relatable and sympathetic. At the beginning, she is an almost painfully normal housewife and mother of two, who spends her days in the predictable ways—going to parks, dispensing Cheerios, and changing diapers. It turns out, though, that Kate has painstakingly cultivated that normality, and has tried to shut herself off from her psychic powers. (It sounds super cheesy, but I promise it doesn’t come off that way.) Violet, on the other hand, is going on the Today show to warn people that she foresees an earthquake coming to St. Louis.
Things get weirder and weirder, but Sittenfeld brilliantly unrolls the crazy so slowly and sneakily that by the end of the book, when Kate makes a series of increasingly destructive and outlandish decisions, I found myself still staunchly on her side, even as I saw how terrible her choices were. Even in suburbia, it seems, shit can get out of control. Watching Kate bring about her own downfall and then cobble together a makeshift solution, I felt a lot of Big Feelings, and I’m still sifting through them even after finishing the book. All I can say with certainty at this point is, I’m glad I have a brother, and not a psychic lesbian identical twin sister.