Come and chat to CURTIS SITTENFELD about SISTERLAND (and all her previous books), Tues 4 Mar 2014, 9-10pm

(110 Posts)

Following the international success of her two previous bestsellers PREP and AMERICAN WIFE, Curtis Sittenfeld has been called the new Donna Tartt, the new Anne Tyler, the new Alice Munro (her own favourite writer). Her latest novel, SISTERLAND, is about a pair of twins, Violet and Kate, who both have psychic visions, or ‘the senses’ as they call them. As they grow up in their suburban, dysfunctional household, it becomes clear that Violet is going to be Bad Twin (drops out of school, can’t maintain a relationship, embraces her ESP with relish) and Kate the Good Twin (gets married, has two children, completely denies her psychic powers in the hope of a ‘normal’ life). But when Vi predicts a giant earthquake will hit their town, the resulting publicity and fame forces both sisters to reconsider their attitudes. Vi is a brilliant character – funny, crazy, flaky. Kate’s struggle with the daily joys and anxieties of motherhood and marriage is expertly observed. And over all this runs the ticking time-bomb of Vi’s prediction and whether the earthquake will actually happen. A clever combination of the paranormal and the everyday ultra-normal, this is a wise, funny and highly enjoyable read from an author we might call the new Kate Atkinson…

You can find more on Curtis? highly informative website including her journalism.

Random House have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters – to claim yours please fill in your details on the book of the month page. We’ll post here when all the copies have gone. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that Curtis will be joining us and answering questions about SISTERLAND, her writing career and her previous novels on Tuesday 4 March, 9-10pm. ??So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and we will see you all here, Tue 4 March.

Oooooh!

Very excited about this one - 'Prep' is one of my favourite books.

mmack Mon 20-Jan-14 23:09:15

I really enjoyed it too. It made me feel like a teenager again. I'm keeping it to give to my daughter when she's a bit older. I liked the way the rich students were fully-drawn characters and not the stereotypes you get in teen movies and Disney programmes.

AliceMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 21-Jan-14 12:07:07

This giveaway is now closed. We will notify those who have been selected to win a free copy via email. If you weren't successful, buy the book, discuss it here and post a question to author Curtis Sittenfeld for our webchat in March.

gailforce1 Sat 25-Jan-14 19:26:59

Really pleased to receive e mail saying I have a free copy on the way, looking forward to this read! Thank you MN.

Highfivethatfart Sat 25-Jan-14 20:09:34

I'm a winner too! Looking forward to reading it.

DuchessofMalfi Fri 31-Jan-14 12:12:18

My copy arrived this morning. Thank you smile Looking forward to getting started shortly.

minimuffin Sat 01-Feb-14 17:03:41

Thanks so much for my copy - really looking forward to reading it. Haven't read any of Curtis's previous work but I've thought I should for a while, and now I have no excuse!

lalamumto3 Tue 04-Feb-14 10:49:32

Thanks for my copy, it arrived on Friday and was read by Sunday. I loved it and will post review.

Thanks again

Thank you for my copy! I am about half way through. I thought it started slowly, and find Kate a strange choice of POV character, but it's definitely a page-turner. I'm hoping for some twists to disprove my plot predictions.....

NoWomanNoCry Wed 05-Feb-14 10:41:00

Thank you for my copy, I'm really excited to read this. When finished I will post a review.

tinxibelle Wed 05-Feb-14 21:17:20

Well just got it so time to start, hope I like it as lost for book inspiration at the minute. Love the book club idea. Do you have a goodreads group too ?
Thanks all x

CheesyBadger Sun 09-Feb-14 12:44:05

This is the first Curtis Sittenfeld book I have read and I am really enjoying it so far. I love the characters and am thoroughly drawn in!

cathlittle Sun 09-Feb-14 20:52:33

It's the first I've read too - it's certainly got an interesting premise. I'm about half way through and am enjoying it! Thank you for the copy and I'll post a review when finished...

Dillydollydaydream Mon 10-Feb-14 19:10:10

Thanks for my copy of Sisterland.
I've never read a book by Curtis Sittenfeld before so wasn't sure what to expect especially as the story involves psychic abilities.
It took me a little while to get into the book and there was quite a bit of writing about general day to day routine stuff which was a bit much at times but overall the storyline was good and I did mostly enjoy the book.

sparkysparkysparky Mon 10-Feb-14 19:22:16

Question for Curtis (SPOILER ALERT):
I enjoyed the book. The twins were completely convincing in the choices they made. You gave the question of race a very light touch and this was the only area that I felt needed more. Kate's decision to tell her husband seemed motivated solely by Hank being a black man. Did you consider giving Hank and Jeremy the same heritage?

I finished Sisterland last night and have to admit that it's not the kind of book I'd usually go for. The subject matter and cover image said "reading group book" to me but the quote on the cover about it being a page-turner is certainly true. I was often up way too late into the night muttering "just another page...just another two pages"!

I said upthread that I hoped my plot predictions were going to be disproved, but I was a bit disappointed when the Kate-Hank story played out pretty straightforwardly. Nice touch at the end with the possibility of Gabe having the senses though - I thought that even if it was a bit predictable, that was lightly done and well written.
On the subject of the senses, this could easily have been far fetched, but I thought it was well handled and believable. The story about the sisters helping to find Brady Ogden was great, and I wished I could read that book!

I was wondering early on in the book if we'd get multiple viewpoints, and wish we had really, as I found Kate a dull character. On the other hand, she had deliberately made herself into that person in order to escape the oddity of her childhood. I would have liked to have the point of view of Courtney, Vi, Jeremy or Stephanie. (Hank was a bit too nice for me)

I found Kate very irritating when she felt it necessary to tell us (for example) she only had one beer a day and one coffee while breastfeeding, but I can see that it was setting her up as strait-laced only to break that image later on. An annoying narrator is hard to get past though!

I found the little girl Rosie beautifully written, and very authentic. The endearing things she said and did were not sickeningly twee as in some books, but had the ring of truth.

I enjoyed Sisterland, and would probably look out for other Curtis Sittenfeld books in the library. I've already recommended it to a friend. Thank you smile

PenelopeLane Tue 11-Feb-14 09:13:16

Possible spoiler alert

I enjoyed this book, although being from NZ where we have a lot of earthquakes I struggled with the idea that quite so many people would believe one person's prediction. I guess that's because there was a case of someone predicting earthquakes here, he's known as the Moon Man and has been publicly ridiculed. While some people may believe what he says, most people don't and no-one has really changed their routines based on his predictions, unlike in the book. So while the book was well enough written that I could suspend disbelief and enjoy the idea of the sisters being able to see the future, I couldn't quite quite believe that Vi would have received the attention that she did.

NoWomanNoCry Tue 11-Feb-14 12:56:01

I'm surprised. I really enjoyed 'Sisterland'! The book was very detailed and somewhat slow in places but it still had me turning the pages desperate to know how it was going to end up. I was very interested in the twins and their "links". It was beautifully written and will certainly make me look out for more of Curtis Sittenfeld's books in the future. Thank you for my free copy.

chris69 Tue 11-Feb-14 15:52:35

Really enjoyed this book,kept me enthralled until the last page! Initially I wasn't quite sure if the book would be for me, but I found it to be a realistic gritty read about relationships between partners, sisters,friends, parents,and your children and being torn between them all.
Thanks for the copy Mumsnet I would read more from this Author.

ktlq Wed 12-Feb-14 16:21:40

CONTAILS SPOILERS++++++++

I've just finished Sisterland - thank you Mumsnet - and I have to be brutally honest that I can't see how comparisons to Donna Tartt and other literary authors are justified. Firstly, I think readers will find some of the minute detail like which medicine a child is taking, quite laborious. The detail of life with children is probably not what Mumsnet readers are after - well, I wasn't! Unless it's very cleverly observed, humorous or something you can relate to, like AM Homes, Maria Semple or Sarah Moss, but I felt this wasn't.

I found Kate's perfect mum act all a bit much, and it was a relief when she went off piste, yet so unsatisfactory. She became an even bigger victim. Vi was totally irritating, taking hand outs from family and being so unhelpful with her niece and nephew. But all the while, I was expecting a big reveal to redeem all of this. A really big reveal. It didn't come. Boo.

The book dips in and out of bigger issues like child abduction (this was the most gripping story line for me but again, undeveloped), earthquakes, race and working mums. But the issues are handled with a very niche American voice, and that's just it, I felt unable to relate. Kate is self-righteous and ridiculously judgemental. I know she is 'good twin', but have I missed the point or is she meant to be so irritating?! She needs to cut herself a massive break.

So my question to the author is this: Why does Hank text 'Just want to confirm there's nothing we should discuss...' when clearly he has just found out about the big P and he's done the math. His text sounds like he thinks there is something to discuss. And he just leaves it there....? After all we've heard about him wanting a second child and how much he relates to Kate etc. Why?

Ok, sorry for my harsh review, I really wanted to like this more...

gailforce1 Thu 13-Feb-14 08:45:05

Thank you for my free copy. Looking forward to starting today!

annieg21 Thu 13-Feb-14 14:38:48

Sisterland tells the story of identical twins Violet and Daisy who may share the same DNA but are worlds apart in terms of personality and outlook. It becomes obvious early in their lives that the twins possess a psychic `gift' and as they grow into adolescents and adults, Daisy (who now goes by her middle name, Kate) chooses to play down her talent in order to live a quiet life with her geology professor husband. Violet on the other hand embraces it with gusto and carves a moderately successful career for herself as a medium, finding fame when she helps the police to locate a kidnapped child. The seemingly perfect family life Kate has built for herself starts to fracture when Violet predicts that their home town of St Louis will be devastated by an earthquake on 16 October 2009. The media goes wild and Violet is once again enjoying the limelight, but not everyone in her family is happy about it.

The story is narrated by Kate in chapters which alternate between the present day (with Violet's earthquake prediction) and flashbacks to their earlier lives. The main character is believable, her actions are irritating at times and not always understandable, but overall I liked `flawed' Kate much more than the `perfect' version of herself which she chose to present to the world. Violet is also very well defined as a character, annoying but also endearingly vulnerable. The issue of the women's psychic abilities isn't dealt with in any real depth; for me the book was more of an examination of family relationships, the impact of rash decisions and the legacy of betrayal.

It's an interesting novel which may not be fast-paced or action-packed enough for some readers, and it does seem to go into a lot of unnecessary detail quite often (do we really need to know what they have for breakfast each day!) but overall I quite enjoyed it.

htinkler Thu 13-Feb-14 22:51:38

This was my first Curtis Sittenfeld book, so I had no expectations. It was a little slow in places. I was a little disappointed with the Kate and Hank outcome and felt the end seemed to rush through a lot - I felt the author had thought 'I need to get this book finished'. But overall an easy read, and some likeable characters (I especially like violet!)

SarahAndFuck Sun 16-Feb-14 22:52:40

I didn't win a copy of Sisterland but I did buy a copy last week and finished it today. I did enjoy it, so much so that yesterday I went out to buy American Wife and Prep as well and am reading (and enjoying) Prep now.

I admit I was expecting the book to be harder to read, less accessible than it was, so I was pleasantly surprised to get hooked from the start.

SPOILERS BELOW

I have to agree that the ending felt a little rushed. Given that most of the book is building up to the date of the earthquake it felt very odd to take such a sudden turn into the issues of Hank being suspected of kidnapping and then Kate being unfaithful and her dilemma about telling Jeremy and keeping the baby.

Given that she had a premonition about two white babies, I thought it odd that she didn't know the paternity of the baby herself when the time came.

And I was interested in their father being the parent they inherited their senses from.

The question I would like to ask is, why did you make Kate and Violet identical twins rather than just siblings?

I wondered if it were because some people believe twins do have senses or abilities, at least towards each other? Or if their identical appearance helped to show the differences between their lives and their choices more than anything else did.

I'm also very interested in ktiq's question, although I suspected that the reason Hank didn't push the issue was because he didn't really want to know the answer and was able to avoid it in a way Kate obviously couldn't, especially as Kate and Jeremy were moving away. Now he can tell himself that he did at least do the right thing and ask, and he doesn't have to rock the boat with Courtney and Amelia.

DoItTooJulia Mon 17-Feb-14 11:30:54

Ooh ooh, was thinking of recommending this as our next book at book club, so can't read the thread, but I'll be back!

clevernickname Mon 17-Feb-14 17:11:27

Mumsnet - thank you for my free copy, it was much appreciated!

To everyone posting above who found Kate irritating with her perfect mother act - I think this was borne out of the character's genuine anxieties about her children which were rooted in her childhood and also, more interestingly, this reflects modern notions of parenthood in America. Even having one coffee and one beer per day whilst breastfeeding would seem quite devilishly carefree by the standards of many Americans.

Question for Curtis: I really admire how you relay a precise sense of time and place in your fiction; for example, Sisterland was peppered with references to strip malls, smoothies, stairclimbing (the exercise du jour in the '90s) and the presence or absence of email and cell phones which made me howl with recognition of the recent past (e.g. the formal, accurately punctuated emails between Vi and Kate in their first weeks of college). How do you decide which details of everyday life are worth including and which might be tedious or lack meaning for a broad audience?

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Mon 17-Feb-14 17:35:58

Thank you very much for the book, much appreciated.

Posting my question now while it's fresh in my mind - was it a hard decision to give Kate the sole narrative POV, rather than sharing with Vi?

And How has becoming a mother yourself affected what you want to write about it and how you physically write?

Thanks to all who have posted their thoughts and questions so far. Do put any advance questions up here over the next week and we'll send them to Curtis on March 1st.

Don't forget you can ask questions about any of her books, so if you are a big fan of American Wife (one of my absolute favorites) or you'd love to know more about how she wrote Prep, then do ask about those too.

Looking forward to seeing you all here on March 4th...

turkeybaby Tue 18-Feb-14 21:37:13

I enjoyed the book a lot and read it really quickly. I can understand what everyone is saying about Kate, but I didn't find her irritating I just thought she was trying really hard to not be her mum.

I was expecting something more at the end though so was disappointed. I thought there would be something about their mum or dad's involvement in their senses and that was there way of looking after them all along.

I thought maybe it was implied that their dad was guardian....that he was giving vi the answers.... Is there anything in that CURTIS?

busybee1978 Wed 19-Feb-14 01:55:21

SPOILER ALERT

I bought a copy and have just finished it. I found the first four hundred pages really, really tedious- one more reference to nursing or naps and the book was going out the window- but I found real strength in the depiction of the adultery and its aftermath, and thought the book had a great ending, which is often the hardest thing to achieve.

My question for Curtis would be, was the constant reference or nursing, strollers, purée and naps deliberate in order to make Kate the cliche of a suburban housewife, and was it not a risk to give a single POV to someone who does nothing exciting until the last third of the narrative? And, although I think someone has already asked this, what made her decide just how much minutiae to leave in? I was also horrified by Kate's judgemental attitude and sanctimoniousness, and I have to say I felt a certain relish when she fell off her pedestal, but with so strong an ending it would have been nice for her to come to these realisations half way through, and then developed her post-adultery character further.

I would be interested to now try Prep or American Wife.

bellingham1 Wed 19-Feb-14 16:11:23

Found this quite hard going at times , too much detail and not enough going on in the book , although due to the premise of the book I felt compelled to stick with it to the end . Well written and good at scene setting especially the time changing from past to present day . The relationship between Vi and daisy is written beautifully with lots of details. Great unique idea of the twins having ESP and felt it could have been more exciting , fab book for those who love long detailed stories although felt the end was a bit of a let down. Not a page turner for me.

PenelopeLane Thu 20-Feb-14 00:24:01

SPOILER ALERT

I just thought of a question after posting above. Why did Curtis decide to have Kate's daughter leave her nursery well before the truck incident? It might have been stronger if she had been currently enrolled when the incident happened, albeit part time

DuchessofMalfi Thu 20-Feb-14 07:56:28

I've almost reached the half way point, and this morning read that Emma Hall, Violet's PR was British and had an accent which was "hard to understand" albeit when combined with her being on speakerphone and in a car with open windows.

What, exactly, is a "British accent"? I presumed what was meant here was a Home Counties Middle/Upper Class English accent circa 1940s (think Brief Encounter and other such films grin). Common misconception that all British people speak like that. I don't, and I don't know anyone who does. It isn't the first time I've come across a comment like this in an American novel and it made me slam the book shut with annoyance.

There are many rich and varied accents in Great Britain, as there are in America, and everywhere else. For example, my late FIL, British but born and brought up in Jamaica, had a Jamaican accent all his life.

I'll get off my soapbox now, and put it away. Reading on with interest smile

DottyDee Thu 20-Feb-14 11:46:41

Throughout the book, I found Kate to be submissive and never in control of making her own decisions. She tends to fall into situations/relationships and any decisions that she does make are often an impulsive response to something else. Her ultimate decision in sleeping with Hank and consequently becoming pregnant, leads her into a relationship with her husband where she becomes even more submissive. Would others agree with this?

ktlq Thu 20-Feb-14 19:35:36

Hi DottyDee and everyone,

I've been thinking about my earlier review and feeling guilty at being quite a harsh critic by my standards. I've been enjoying reading what everyone else thinks however.

I think DottyDee hits it on the head with the 'submissiveness' of the lead character - this is what got me going! But that means the author's done a great job of creating a believable character and this has to be congratulated.

I've heard great things about American Wife so will look out for it. Thanks again Mumsnet! Love this book club!

cathlittle Mon 24-Feb-14 17:22:58

It took me a while to get into Sisterland. It's not a pacey book, but its exploration of the characters through present, past (and psychic vision!) really won me over. I actually stayed up far too late to finish the book when I was getting close to the end.

The relationship between the twins was really interesting. My guess about why they are twins rather than siblings is that bond holding them together is so much stronger (at least in people's perceptions!). However, it was the relationship with their mum and dad (particularly when you found out that their senses came from him) that made me ask more questions.

I can't stand that no fictional characters seem able to be faithful to their partner, so was disappointed at Kate / Hank, but guess it's a way of exploring the huge emotional letdown that Kate had around the earthquake, particularly with her husband away.

I thought the parts about motherhood rang really true. This is where, for me, Kate's character was at its most sympathetic.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and would return to the author's work again (but I was knackered the day after I finished it!!!).

cathlittle Mon 24-Feb-14 17:24:09

Yes, Kate is quite a submissive character. I think that's why the relationship with her parents is so interesting. She seems to have a 'keep your head down and be normal' approach which is so different from her twin's.

cathlittle Mon 24-Feb-14 17:25:37

DuchessofMalfi - totally agree about the 'British accent' - I'm from up north, my parents are Scottish and my little girl's got some west country twangs!!! To be fair, I'd use the term 'American accent' which would probably seem just as ridiculous across the pond!

DuchessofMalfi Mon 24-Feb-14 18:25:58

I finished reading it this afternoon. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would. The character of Kate annoyed me - it seemed all too easy for her to "forget about" her husband conveniently and sleep with Hank, her supposed friend. Why would she suddenly choose to do that? It seemed out of character.

All the way through I thought I didn't like Vi. Her alleged psychic powers made her appear odd. But by the end, I found myself liking her better - she was a strong character, answerable to no-one but herself, and not diminished by her perceived failed prophecy.

However, my thought about Vi's (and Kate's) prophecy of the earthquake was more to do with the upheavals in their own family.

So my question to Curtis Sittenfeld is - was the earthquake prophecy, to some extent, allegorical? Vi saw a disaster approaching, but it was personal to her sister. Kate, in choosing that particular date, had set herself on the path to self-destruction, and I wonder whether it would have happened anyway?

JACKIRARUN Tue 25-Feb-14 11:45:29

First book by Curtis Sittenfield that I have read. I found it to be slow in places, but enjoyed the characters, and found the plot interesting.

EmLH Wed 26-Feb-14 09:33:53

Thanks very much for my copy. I finished it last night at nearly midnight! Although it is not my usual choice of book I quite enjoyed it. I like Curtis' writing style and found it a comforting, easy read. It was quite a long book in terms of the plot panning out and I thought the characters developed quite slowly, but I didn't mind too much. I thought it was descriptive, but not in an annoying way, and I built up a good picture in my head of the twins and their surroundings.

*Spoiler**** the only disappointment to me was the ending. I quite liked Kate throughout the story (preferred Vi!), but when she chose not to tell Hank at the end, it really changed my opinion of her. I also felt Hank let go of his suspicions too easily and that Jeremy pretty much immediately accepted what she'd done and started planning their future, which was weird. It felt as if there was a massive build up to something that didn't happen and then they buggered off into the sunset pretty quickly. I think a more messy and protracted ending would've been more interesting. I also thought the daycare crash was hardly mentioned and really wanted Vi to have been right about something to validate her senses. I would've been happier if she'd had a second revelation that had come true publicly, for example.

One part of the book I did like was the bit where one second Kate was totally into shagging Hank and then when he started to take ages to come it immediately changed the situation and the way she was feeling. I thought that was very realistic and it made me feel sorry for her, as if that moment would have made her realise pretty quickly that the grass isn't always greener and fantasies should prob remain exactly that as the reality doesn't always match up.

As for a question for Curtis, for some reason, throughout the book I had Vi in my head as Melissa McCarthy! So I would be interested in who Curtis would visualise playing the characters should the book be turned into a film?

Alidoll Wed 26-Feb-14 14:15:54

Just finished Sisterland and, on the whole enjoyed it. I was however deeply skeptical about the media interest and ability to believe the prediction of the earthquake as, in general those with psychic ability tend to be ignored at best and ridiculed more often so one voice would unlikely to be taken as gospel even of the person had "predicted" a couple of smaller in incidents and most of these can usually be attributed to probability. Example...you have a friend...or work colleague...or relative with the letter A in their name (looks at the persons body language as you say each slowly for a reaction..)...ah yes, relative...a brother...sister...yes sister...what's her name (Abigail interjects the person). Yes. Abigail...she's been happy / sad etc....eventually the person has enough information to guess the story but appear as if they have special powers. Observational powers perhaps but unlikely to be much more than that I'm afraid!!

Getting one person to believe is difficult but the skeptics would have a field day...

Like others, I felt the ending was rushed while other areas could have been amended (the medication mentioned by another reader being an example).

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 26-Feb-14 14:28:04

Hi Curtis, Can I sneak in a question about one of your other books? American Wife is one of my favourite books of all time and I'm really interested to know whether Laura Bush has read the book and what she thought of it?

Just a quick reminder to put all your advance questions up here, and don't forget you can ask about any of Curtis' books...

Highfivethatfart Thu 27-Feb-14 11:08:57

SPOILER ALERT.....
Stayed up late last night to finish the book. Overall I really enjoyed it and was surprised at how much I actually liked reading the day to day routine stuff which other readers seem to have found tedious! Quite early on I thought that there wouldn't be an actual earthquake but that personal worlds would be altered/broken/cracked (and any other earthquake related words). Can't make my mind up whether I like Kate or not...I think probably more not.....I don't think I sympathised enough with her to understand why she felt the need to cause such seismic waves in her and her family's life.....why would you want to hurt a man like Jeremy. There can't be many men who would accept the fact their wife wants to blow their money on a PR representative and have another mans child??? I know mine wouldn't!
However I will be passing the book on for others to read and will be purchasing a copy of The American Wife and Prep.
Thanks Curtis and Mumsnet.

Soyna Fri 28-Feb-14 12:46:21

Hello,
I purchased this book on kindle. I'm new to Mumsnet and am simply THRILLED to join a book club. I'm a mum of twins and an author of children's books (and by bizarre coincidence have authored a fantasy novel about twins --although they are 13 year old boys and it's set in India)

I have also lived in the American Midwest for many years so a lot about this book resonated with me. I read somewhere that alice Munro is one of Curtis's favourite authors. I could see Munro's influence in Curtis's book. I liked the details that some saw as tedious although I do admit that at times, it felt a bit heavy handed. Mostly though, for me it actually slowed things down enough that it made it more suspenseful. My favourite character was Vi. I thought she was endearing and warm. Kate was well done too as a conflicted, somewhat repressed past-psychic. I would have loved some more information and detail on the kidnapping as well as the psychic phenomena Kate experienced. However, all in all a wonderful book, and the most amazing part for me was the relationship of the twins. I savoured it throughout. Lovely and thoroughly enjoyable.
Soyna

MrsSquirrel Sat 01-Mar-14 20:00:11

Thanks very much for my copy of the book. I thought it was a gripping story and for me it was a page turner. The portrayal of all the relationships, especially the relationship between Kate and Vi, were the best thing about it. Their love for each other seems genuine. I see many of the previous posters found one or the other of them annoying, but for me their contradictions gave more depth to the characters.

I did have to suspend my disbelief sometimes, especially for the whole media storm around Vi's prediction.

I liked the use of detail in the book. All the stuff about childcare rang true for me. If that made it bit boring, imo that's true, sometimes caring for young children is boring.

Overall, even though there were a few niggles, I really enjoyed the book.

MrsSquirrel Sat 01-Mar-14 20:52:10

My question for Curtis is about St Louis. The setting of the story in St Louis is important for the book in many ways. I know nothing at all about St Louis, so all the detail about the neighbourhoods and the streets they drove on were lost on me. What made you decide to set the book there and what does St Louis mean to you?

gailforce1 Mon 03-Mar-14 08:42:02

Thank you for my copy.
I did enjoy the book and have added Prep and American Wife to my TBR pile.
One of my questions is the same as MrsSquirrel about the setting, St Louis.
I would also like to ask Curtis which authors she enjoys reading and if she can recommend any up and coming American writers?
Looking forward to the chat tomorrow night.

DoItTooJulia Mon 03-Mar-14 17:29:14

I loved American Wife, like RachelMN, it's one of my all time favourites.

No question, just love for the book.

I need to remember this is tomorrow.

Curtis - Prep is one of my all time favourite books. I absolutely loved it - it took me back to my love of Malory Towers but added a real grown up (and well written grin) element to it. I've recommended it to far too many people. I sort of want to beg you to write more Ault stories, but I know that's probably very irritating. So I will sit on my hands and reread Prep instead.

CurtisSittenfeld Mon 03-Mar-14 18:53:37

Hi, everyone-
Just posting a test message to make sure the system is working in anticipation of our chat tomorrow. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and questions (even those of you who didn't fall in love with the book!).
Maybe tomorrow one of you will explain to me why in the "Smileys list" below a biscuit means "No comment"...?

Biscuitsneeded Mon 03-Mar-14 22:57:04

I read and enjoyed Sisterland, and Prep, but LOVED An American Wife. In fact, might dig it out and read it again now...

I'm looking forward to reading Curtis' answers tomorrow...

sherazade Tue 04-Mar-14 07:52:19

Read this in two sittings. It made for perfect lazy weekend self indulgent reading, slightly reminiscent of 'The Virgin Suicides' in its dreamy evocation of the adolescence of children who are on the margins of society. I was both puzzled by and drawn to the amount of detail. The flavours of Oscars jars, for example, sucked me in to Kate's zealousness. I sympathised and empathised with Kate and could relate to her, her relationship with Vi reminded me very much if my relationship with my own sister. I didnt think the perfect wife/ mother image was an act, i felt she was genuinely trying to contain her subversiveness until it finally implodes. I suspected all along that there was more to Hank and her and I'm not one for predictions but it was beautifully subtle. No questions, but glad I read this.

mum2jakie Tue 04-Mar-14 08:50:18

Looking forward to tonight's web chat. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Sisterland from the mums net book club too.

I enjoyed the book but did find the cover and blurb a little misleading as I was expecting quite a tense thriller style of read and instead found the book quite an accurate representation of modern parenting which was a little slow going in parts.

I actually quite liked Kate as a main character - Vi irritated me considerably and I found the amount of media attention that her prediction received was a little implausible really. (SPOILER: I was glad that the earthquake didn't happen though. It would have been far too neat and easy to have her proven correct. I also liked how easily she brushed it off and moved on with her life.)

One feature that did strike me was the representation of breastfeeding as this is never really mentioned in fiction (beyond the newborn days or as a chore in the comedy 'mum lit' style novels.) It was nice to see this mentioned as an everyday part of Kate's life and not in a patronising propaganda way. I was wondering whether that kind of detail was included for any specific purpose?

brendarenda Tue 04-Mar-14 11:57:10

I'm really looking forward to the chat tonight. I enjoyed the book very much.
Unlike some other book clubbers, I actually loved the minutiae of Kate's everyday life at home with the kids. A domestic life (or maybe any life) is one that can't be accurately told without dealing in the detail. I think it also serves a similar purpose to the unfolding back story of the twins' childhood and adolescence. Sharing the sisters' past and the detail of Kate's day-to-day with the reader somehow draws us in closer. In fact, it struck me that this is what family relationships are mostly made of - a shared history and 'what shall we have for tea?'. That pretty much sums up my relationship with my sister anyway. No detail is too trivial for us!
I'm probably a bit late for a question but would love to know more about the thinking behind Curtis's treatment of ESP in the novel. I think it probably occupies exactly the right amount of space but you can't help wanting more of it!

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 12:57:37

TillyBookClub

Just a quick reminder to put all your advance questions up here, and don't forget you can ask about any of Curtis' books...

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RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 04-Mar-14 16:40:35

brendarenda

I'm really looking forward to the chat tonight. I enjoyed the book very much.
Unlike some other book clubbers, I actually loved the minutiae of Kate's everyday life at home with the kids. A domestic life (or maybe any life) is one that can't be accurately told without dealing in the detail. I think it also serves a similar purpose to the unfolding back story of the twins' childhood and adolescence. Sharing the sisters' past and the detail of Kate's day-to-day with the reader somehow draws us in closer. In fact, it struck me that this is what family relationships are mostly made of - a shared history and 'what shall we have for tea?'. That pretty much sums up my relationship with my sister anyway. No detail is too trivial for us!
I'm probably a bit late for a question but would love to know more about the thinking behind Curtis's treatment of ESP in the novel. I think it probably occupies exactly the right amount of space but you can't help wanting more of it!

Thanks for your comments - you're not too late to ask a question. Curtis will be joining us between 9 and 10pm and taking questions throughout the hour as well as getting through as many of the advance questions as possible during the hour. It's great to see so much discussion this month.

teaandcustardcreams Tue 04-Mar-14 17:15:39

Hi Curtis,

What are your own views on 'psychic abilities' and did you visit a psychic when researching the book? Enjoyed the book!

kittykitty Tue 04-Mar-14 17:24:30

[Spoiler alert] The question I'd like to ask is about the idea that men and women can't be close friends without intimacy developing. When we first meet Hank in the book and discover how close his relationship with Kate is, I did think an affair of some sort was inevitable. Were you concerned about that seeming so unavoidable - did you ever have a version of the book in your head which they didn't hook up?

minimuffin Tue 04-Mar-14 17:36:20

I'm just posting now in case I can't join in the web chat tonight (pesky kids...!) but I will try.

I've enjoyed the book (thanks Mumsnet). I found it slow-going to begin with but by half way in I felt it was beautifully paced, with the alternation between the present and the past so well-balanced, like layers of paint being added to the character. I don't see Kate as submissive - I see her as someone who has made a really conscious decision about how she wants her life to play out and dedicates herself to it (until it all starts to unravel obviously). Vi was interesting whilst being annoying and in some ways their being twins reminded me a bit of the "Sliding Doors" film - this is how my life could have turned out. Like an alternative reality.

I found the depiction of family relationships in the book so so true - ageing parents and children, the sibling thing of them driving you to distraction but yet being able to understand them in a way no-one else can because of your shared childhood, and the ways that the demands of your own family (the one you've created) can clash with those of the family you came from. I found all the detail about motherhood very realistic and not too much - all rings very true. Even though I'm not nearly as rigorous as Kate about routine etc etc I know a lot of people who are. The bits about college life and that slightly rudderless feeling you can get when leaving university also brought back some memories - I really like your writing Curtis.

I didn't find the level of attention Vi got especially believable. I can't imagine that it would have got much further than the local press. But in a way it didn't matter, it was a way to build the story and make matters escalate out of the family's hands. The prediction and the idea of the senses a great one on lots of levels but I'd like to know where Curtis got the idea from. Was it something you read that set an idea running in your head, or were you looking for a device that would give a time pressure to the plot and take matters out of the hands of the immediate protagonists?

(Sorry this is all slightly garbled - typing between flipping pancakes. Hope to be back later!)

brendarenda Tue 04-Mar-14 18:56:56

My question for Curtis is - you seem to tread a very careful line with your portrayal of ESP between scepticism and credibility. Is that deliberate? Was there ever a point when you were planning on having a real earthquake on the predicted date (instead of/as well as the domestic one)?

Evening everyone

I'm thrilled to welcome Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife and Prep, who joins us tonight from St Louis to discuss her latest novel, SISTERLAND.

Curtis, thank you very much indeed once again for taking the time to be here tonight (or this afternoon as I think it is for you? And can I quickly find out: are you flipping batter for Pancake Day as we are here in UK?)

Congratulations on your insightful, funny, beautifully written books - and on their bestselling success. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to ask you the two standard Mumsnet questions we like to ask all Bookclub authors:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you…

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:03:21

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone

I'm thrilled to welcome Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife and Prep, who joins us tonight from St Louis to discuss her latest novel, SISTERLAND.

Curtis, thank you very much indeed once again for taking the time to be here tonight (or this afternoon as I think it is for you? And can I quickly find out: are you flipping batter for Pancake Day as we are here in UK?)

Congratulations on your insightful, funny, beautifully written books - and on their bestselling success. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to ask you the two standard Mumsnet questions we like to ask all Bookclub authors:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you?

Thanks, Tilly! I'm so glad to be joining all of you. Unfortunately, I am not presently making or eating pancakes, but I wish I were.

As for your questions, there are so many books I just loved as a child, but one of my all-time favorites was a beautifully-illustrated copy of the fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” I loved the worlds-within-worlds aspect of it, the glamour and secrecy.

Regarding writing advice, this is rather boring and practical, but schedule time when you’re going to write and write it down in your diary or calendar or whatever you keep online. And then don’t schedule anything that conflicts with it. This is especially important if you have children, which you probably do if we’re meeting on Mumsnet! You don’t need to write every day, but you need to do it regularly, even if it’s just for an hour or two three times a week. Knowing you’ll go back to it will keep the wheels turning in your head even when you’re away from your work.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:04:50

sparkysparkysparky

Question for Curtis (SPOILER ALERT):
I enjoyed the book. The twins were completely convincing in the choices they made. You gave the question of race a very light touch and this was the only area that I felt needed more. Kate's decision to tell her husband seemed motivated solely by Hank being a black man. Did you consider giving Hank and Jeremy the same heritage?

SPOILER ALERT
I did consider making Jeremy and Hank the same race, which likely would have been white. I don’t think it was crucial to the plot that Hank be black, but it did mean that if Kate had the baby, the child’s paternity would be obvious in a way it wouldn’t be if the father were white. I think plenty of white Americans—including liberal or progressive ones—have few or no close black friends, and, aside from the sexual tension in Kate and Hank’s friendship, I was interested in exploring the ways race does and doesn’t factor in. It can be awkward to discuss, but how can it not have some significance?
Interestingly, though Hank’s race is mentioned a couple times early on, many readers get to the end of the book not realizing he’s black. However, I personally am not a fan of white writers (and I’m white) dwelling on the exact shade of a black character’s skin—mocha, caramel, etc.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:06:03

CreepyLittleBat

I finished Sisterland last night and have to admit that it's not the kind of book I'd usually go for. The subject matter and cover image said "reading group book" to me but the quote on the cover about it being a page-turner is certainly true. I was often up way too late into the night muttering "just another page...just another two pages"!

I said upthread that I hoped my plot predictions were going to be disproved, but I was a bit disappointed when the Kate-Hank story played out pretty straightforwardly. Nice touch at the end with the possibility of Gabe having the senses though - I thought that even if it was a bit predictable, that was lightly done and well written.
On the subject of the senses, this could easily have been far fetched, but I thought it was well handled and believable. The story about the sisters helping to find Brady Ogden was great, and I wished I could read that book!

I was wondering early on in the book if we'd get multiple viewpoints, and wish we had really, as I found Kate a dull character. On the other hand, she had deliberately made herself into that person in order to escape the oddity of her childhood. I would have liked to have the point of view of Courtney, Vi, Jeremy or Stephanie. (Hank was a bit too nice for me)

I found Kate very irritating when she felt it necessary to tell us (for example) she only had one beer a day and one coffee while breastfeeding, but I can see that it was setting her up as strait-laced only to break that image later on. An annoying narrator is hard to get past though!

I found the little girl Rosie beautifully written, and very authentic. The endearing things she said and did were not sickeningly twee as in some books, but had the ring of truth.

I enjoyed Sisterland, and would probably look out for other Curtis Sittenfeld books in the library. I've already recommended it to a friend. Thank you smile

I understand what readers mean when they say they found Kate dull or self-righteous, though I find her sympathetic. I see her as someone who’s basically uptight by design because she’s trying to hold at bay internal and external chaos. I never really considered writing the book from alternating points of view. Although I have enjoyed some books like that, I often find that it dilutes the power of the story-telling and also that you can tell which character the author favors—the book just comes alive in his or her sections. As a writer and reader, I’d usually rather immerse myself deeply in one character’s point of view.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:06:54

PenelopeLane

*Possible spoiler alert*

I enjoyed this book, although being from NZ where we have a lot of earthquakes I struggled with the idea that quite so many people would believe one person's prediction. I guess that's because there was a case of someone predicting earthquakes here, he's known as the Moon Man and has been publicly ridiculed. While some people may believe what he says, most people don't and no-one has really changed their routines based on his predictions, unlike in the book. So while the book was well enough written that I could suspend disbelief and enjoy the idea of the sisters being able to see the future, I couldn't quite quite believe that Vi would have received the attention that she did.

The earthquake prediction is actually based on a real prediction by a real person, Iben Browning, who said an earthquake would occur in a particular area of the Midwest on or around a certain day in December 1990. It didn’t happen, but people, even educated people, bought earthquake insurance, shipped their china out of town, stored running shoes in the trunks of their cars and water bottles in their basements, and in some cases left town. I think the reaction was so strong because 1) major earthquakes DON’T normally happen in the American Midwest, so people don’t live with, and have to accept, that daily possibility as they do in, say, California and 2) a series of huge earthquakes DID happen around here in 1811-1812, so that made Browning’s claims more plausible. Seeming unlikely but not impossible is perhaps the best recipe for inciting fear?

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:08:44

SarahAndFuck

I didn't win a copy of Sisterland but I did buy a copy last week and finished it today. I did enjoy it, so much so that yesterday I went out to buy American Wife and Prep as well and am reading (and enjoying) Prep now.

I admit I was expecting the book to be harder to read, less accessible than it was, so I was pleasantly surprised to get hooked from the start.

SPOILERS BELOW

I have to agree that the ending felt a little rushed. Given that most of the book is building up to the date of the earthquake it felt very odd to take such a sudden turn into the issues of Hank being suspected of kidnapping and then Kate being unfaithful and her dilemma about telling Jeremy and keeping the baby.

Given that she had a premonition about two white babies, I thought it odd that she didn't know the paternity of the baby herself when the time came.

And I was interested in their father being the parent they inherited their senses from.

The question I would like to ask is, why did you make Kate and Violet identical twins rather than just siblings?

I wondered if it were because some people believe twins do have senses or abilities, at least towards each other? Or if their identical appearance helped to show the differences between their lives and their choices more than anything else did.

I'm also very interested in ktiq's question, although I suspected that the reason Hank didn't push the issue was because he didn't really want to know the answer and was able to avoid it in a way Kate obviously couldn't, especially as Kate and Jeremy were moving away. Now he can tell himself that he did at least do the right thing and ask, and he doesn't have to rock the boat with Courtney and Amelia.

Nice Mumsnet nickname!

So the reason I made Kate and Violet identical twins is that I felt being twins was a potentially more dramatic and intense version of the typical sibling relationship. The fact of their being the same age means neither is in an automatic leadership role. Even though twins are pretty commonplace these days, when you really think about the phenomenon of identical twins, of one being splitting in two, it’s rather amazing.

I agree with your analysis of Hank—he doesn’t know because he doesn’t want to know, although at some level he does know.

MissKate Tue 04-Mar-14 21:09:00

How did you research ESP?

MissKate Tue 04-Mar-14 21:09:29

Why did you want to write about Sisters and twins?

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:09:51

clevernickname

Mumsnet - thank you for my free copy, it was much appreciated!

To everyone posting above who found Kate irritating with her perfect mother act - I think this was borne out of the character's genuine anxieties about her children which were rooted in her childhood and also, more interestingly, this reflects modern notions of parenthood in America. Even having one coffee and one beer per day whilst breastfeeding would seem quite devilishly carefree by the standards of many Americans.

Question for Curtis: I really admire how you relay a precise sense of time and place in your fiction; for example, Sisterland was peppered with references to strip malls, smoothies, stairclimbing (the exercise du jour in the '90s) and the presence or absence of email and cell phones which made me howl with recognition of the recent past (e.g. the formal, accurately punctuated emails between Vi and Kate in their first weeks of college). How do you decide which details of everyday life are worth including and which might be tedious or lack meaning for a broad audience?

Your question about which details of everyday life are worth including is a great one and frankly, just based on reader responses on Mumsnet, it’s clear that not all readers think I chose correctly! I had a wonderful writing teacher named Frank Conroy who would say “Writing fiction is a combination of knowing what you’re doing and not knowing what you’re doing.” A lot of times I just intuitively do or don’t put something in a novel, and then if it seems fine, I leave it, and if it seems wrong, I remove it (I revise quite a lot). It’s a bit like getting dressed in the morning. If someone said, “Why are you wearing that shirt?” your response would likely be something like, “I put it on, and then I didn’t take it off.”

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:10:56

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret

Thank you very much for the book, much appreciated.

Posting my question now while it's fresh in my mind - was it a hard decision to give Kate the sole narrative POV, rather than sharing with Vi?

And How has becoming a mother yourself affected what you want to write about it and how you physically write?

I’m a much more efficient writer now that I have young children (mine are currently three and about to turn five). I spend less time reading celebrity gossip online (though I do still reserve some time for my daily fix). I used to think that if I didn’t have about four hours to immerse myself in my fictional world, I wouldn’t bother to start working, but now if I have ninety minutes, I’ll set the alarm on my iPhone and get cracking. That said, I never write fiction in the same room with my children. Some people do (not necessarily by choice, obviously), but those two mindsets feel very separate to me.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:11:36

turkeybaby

I enjoyed the book a lot and read it really quickly. I can understand what everyone is saying about Kate, but I didn't find her irritating I just thought she was trying really hard to not be her mum.

I was expecting something more at the end though so was disappointed. I thought there would be something about their mum or dad's involvement in their senses and that was there way of looking after them all along.

I thought maybe it was implied that their dad was guardian....that he was giving vi the answers.... Is there anything in that CURTIS?

Hmm…the idea of the dad being Guardian is not one that had occurred to me, but I like it. The parents are non-communicative in what I think of as a particular American Midwestern kind of way (of course not all Midwesterners are like this!). But they essentially avoid any topic of importance in favor of discussing trivial, non-fraught ones.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:12:19

busybee1978

SPOILER ALERT

I bought a copy and have just finished it. I found the first four hundred pages really, really tedious- one more reference to nursing or naps and the book was going out the window- but I found real strength in the depiction of the adultery and its aftermath, and thought the book had a great ending, which is often the hardest thing to achieve.

My question for Curtis would be, was the constant reference or nursing, strollers, purée and naps deliberate in order to make Kate the cliche of a suburban housewife, and was it not a risk to give a single POV to someone who does nothing exciting until the last third of the narrative? And, although I think someone has already asked this, what made her decide just how much minutiae to leave in? I was also horrified by Kate's judgemental attitude and sanctimoniousness, and I have to say I felt a certain relish when she fell off her pedestal, but with so strong an ending it would have been nice for her to come to these realisations half way through, and then developed her post-adultery character further.

I would be interested to now try Prep or American Wife.

I thought your comment about finding the first 400 pages “really tedious” was so funny I tweeted it yesterday. Don’t you think life is too short to stay with a book you don’t like for so long? I give up after 50 pages. As for risking boring the reader until the final quarter, no novel will please everyone and I’m not writing to convince people who don’t like my work that they should like it. I’m not running for elected office. I understand that Kate’s concerns can feel very mundane, and you’re certainly not the only reader who has reacted this way, but I see it as a kind of sleight-of-hand to make people think they’re reading about changing diapers when they’re really reading about a woman making the biggest mistake (in certain ways) of her life.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:12:52

DuchessofMalfi

I finished reading it this afternoon. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would. The character of Kate annoyed me - it seemed all too easy for her to "forget about" her husband conveniently and sleep with Hank, her supposed friend. Why would she suddenly choose to do that? It seemed out of character.

All the way through I thought I didn't like Vi. Her alleged psychic powers made her appear odd. But by the end, I found myself liking her better - she was a strong character, answerable to no-one but herself, and not diminished by her perceived failed prophecy.

However, my thought about Vi's (and Kate's) prophecy of the earthquake was more to do with the upheavals in their own family.

So my question to Curtis Sittenfeld is - was the earthquake prophecy, to some extent, allegorical? Vi saw a disaster approaching, but it was personal to her sister. Kate, in choosing that particular date, had set herself on the path to self-destruction, and I wonder whether it would have happened anyway?

Yes, I think the earthquake can be seen as allegorical.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:13:48

EmLH

Thanks very much for my copy. I finished it last night at nearly midnight! Although it is not my usual choice of book I quite enjoyed it. I like Curtis' writing style and found it a comforting, easy read. It was quite a long book in terms of the plot panning out and I thought the characters developed quite slowly, but I didn't mind too much. I thought it was descriptive, but not in an annoying way, and I built up a good picture in my head of the twins and their surroundings.

*Spoiler**** the only disappointment to me was the ending. I quite liked Kate throughout the story (preferred Vi!), but when she chose not to tell Hank at the end, it really changed my opinion of her. I also felt Hank let go of his suspicions too easily and that Jeremy pretty much immediately accepted what she'd done and started planning their future, which was weird. It felt as if there was a massive build up to something that didn't happen and then they buggered off into the sunset pretty quickly. I think a more messy and protracted ending would've been more interesting. I also thought the daycare crash was hardly mentioned and really wanted Vi to have been right about something to validate her senses. I would've been happier if she'd had a second revelation that had come true publicly, for example.

One part of the book I did like was the bit where one second Kate was totally into shagging Hank and then when he started to take ages to come it immediately changed the situation and the way she was feeling. I thought that was very realistic and it made me feel sorry for her, as if that moment would have made her realise pretty quickly that the grass isn't always greener and fantasies should prob remain exactly that as the reality doesn't always match up.

As for a question for Curtis, for some reason, throughout the book I had Vi in my head as Melissa McCarthy! So I would be interested in who Curtis would visualise playing the characters should the book be turned into a film?

“Bugger Off Into the Sunset”—I suspect there’d be a large market for a book with that title. Who wants to write it?
By the way, I think Vi IS partly right about the earthquake prediction, about the huge, devastating one that takes place outside St. Louis. As for Melissa McCarthy, she’d make a great Vi. I can see Reese Witherspoon as Kate. Do you think people would buy those two as sisters?!

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:14:31

RachelMumsnet

Hi Curtis, Can I sneak in a question about one of your other books? American Wife is one of my favourite books of all time and I'm really interested to know whether Laura Bush has read the book and what she thought of it?

When asked (not by me—we’ve never met), Laura Bush has said that she hasn’t read American Wife and I believe this. I wouldn’t read it if I were her—she’s used to being the focus of public attention, so I’m sure she’s learned to tune it out, plus frankly I assume she’d find the book misleading and annoying. It doesn’t pretend to be fact. The factual one is her memoir, Spoken From the Heart. She may not have read my Laura Bush book, but I have read and enjoyed hers!

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:15:23

MrsSquirrel

My question for Curtis is about St Louis. The setting of the story in St Louis is important for the book in many ways. I know nothing at all about St Louis, so all the detail about the neighbourhoods and the streets they drove on were lost on me. What made you decide to set the book there and what does St Louis mean to you?

Interestingly, prior to your question, whenever someone asked me why the book contained so many details about St. Louis, the person was a St. Louisan. And I felt this was a rather self-deprecating response, with locals wondering why they would possibly be of interest to a larger audience, though maybe their self-deprecation is well-founded. I personally like novels grounded in a particular place, with very granular details. It’s okay if I picture them differently than they actually are. An analogy I often think of is Junot Diaz’s work, which is sprinkled with Spanish phrases. I don’t speak Spanish, but I can infer meaning, and I feel that his use of language helps to create a particular atmosphere for his fiction.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:17:24

gailforce1

Thank you for my copy.
I did enjoy the book and have added Prep and American Wife to my TBR pile.
One of my questions is the same as MrsSquirrel about the setting, St Louis.
I would also like to ask Curtis which authors she enjoys reading and if she can recommend any up and coming American writers?
Looking forward to the chat tomorrow night.

Regarding up and coming American writers, I love If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous, Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel, Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead and Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani. There are so many more but those are popping into my head right now.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:19:00

MimsyBorogroves

I need to remember this is tomorrow.

Curtis - Prep is one of my all time favourite books. I absolutely loved it - it took me back to my love of Malory Towers but added a real grown up (and well written grin) element to it. I've recommended it to far too many people. I sort of want to beg you to write more Ault stories, but I know that's probably very irritating. So I will sit on my hands and reread Prep instead.

Ha--the funny thing is, I do think I have a Prep sequel in me, although it would likely not take place at Ault. And it's definitely still gestating. A novel is probably a bit like a party, however, in that it's better to end it with people still wanting more.

MrsSquirrel Tue 04-Mar-14 21:20:34

Thanks for answering my question Curtis.
About the biscuit thing -
A few years ago Mumsnet had the prime minister Gordon Brown in for a live webchat. Somebody asked what his favourite biscuit was. (Favourite biscuit = favorite cookie) He answered all the questions about childcare, education policty, etc, but dodged the biscuit question. It attracted a lot of media attention and became a running joke on Mumsnet.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:23:28

mum2jakie

Looking forward to tonight's web chat. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Sisterland from the mums net book club too.

I enjoyed the book but did find the cover and blurb a little misleading as I was expecting quite a tense thriller style of read and instead found the book quite an accurate representation of modern parenting which was a little slow going in parts.

I actually quite liked Kate as a main character - Vi irritated me considerably and I found the amount of media attention that her prediction received was a little implausible really. (SPOILER: I was glad that the earthquake didn't happen though. It would have been far too neat and easy to have her proven correct. I also liked how easily she brushed it off and moved on with her life.)

One feature that did strike me was the representation of breastfeeding as this is never really mentioned in fiction (beyond the newborn days or as a chore in the comedy 'mum lit' style novels.) It was nice to see this mentioned as an everyday part of Kate's life and not in a patronising propaganda way. I was wondering whether that kind of detail was included for any specific purpose?

I included the breastfeeding to give the texture of everyday life rather than for political reasons. I think the reality is that some mothers are able to breastfeed, some aren't, and nearly every mom seems to do the best she can. Although I have plenty of opinions, political and otherwise, I write about them in articles rather than fiction. I feel that fiction is more appropriate for writing about people as they are and getting at what makes people tick. Some readers are frustrated that my characters aren't moral role models, but again, I'm not trying to instruct.

MissKate Tue 04-Mar-14 21:23:36

Hi Curtis,

Did you go and talk to people about their senses. Do you believe in ESP?

I enjoyed the book.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:25:29

brendarenda

I'm really looking forward to the chat tonight. I enjoyed the book very much.
Unlike some other book clubbers, I actually loved the minutiae of Kate's everyday life at home with the kids. A domestic life (or maybe any life) is one that can't be accurately told without dealing in the detail. I think it also serves a similar purpose to the unfolding back story of the twins' childhood and adolescence. Sharing the sisters' past and the detail of Kate's day-to-day with the reader somehow draws us in closer. In fact, it struck me that this is what family relationships are mostly made of - a shared history and 'what shall we have for tea?'. That pretty much sums up my relationship with my sister anyway. No detail is too trivial for us!
I'm probably a bit late for a question but would love to know more about the thinking behind Curtis's treatment of ESP in the novel. I think it probably occupies exactly the right amount of space but you can't help wanting more of it!

I wanted to treat the ESP or psychicness matter-of-factly rather than sensationally. Kate and Vi sincerely believe they're psychic, so they're not trying to prove it to the reader. I was very flattered when a psychic complimented me on the depiction--she said, yeah, that's what it's really like. You have a premonition, then you go and make yourself a bowl of cereal.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:28:09

teaandcustardcreams

Hi Curtis,

What are your own views on 'psychic abilities' and did you visit a psychic when researching the book? Enjoyed the book!

I had interviewed a psychic in the past, I interviewed another one while working on the book, I did a bunch of reading, and I visited a New Age bookstore--I told myself I was going on a research trip, then I unironically bought crystals. Being psychic doesn't seem to me impossible, and I'm generally interested in the idea of intuition (which of course sometimes can come from external cues we're not even aware of perceiving). Hank speaks for me when he says that there is so much that's weird and unexplained in the world that being psychic doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility.

minimuffin Tue 04-Mar-14 21:30:10

Ooh I love good tip offs about authors.

Someone said upthread that this book reminded them of the Virgin Suicides and I agree with that. Girls left to muddle through their small town teenage years with their parents (esp mothers) physically present yet totally absent emotionally. Interesting seeing how Vi & Kate reacted to that and I found it really poignant when Kate was looking at photos of Ben's family and felt that she had no place in that. It was as if she would somehow taint the happy family set up because she was tainted by her upbringing... so sad.

Calypso2 Tue 04-Mar-14 21:32:03

I really enjoyed Sisterland. I loved the details of everyday life and the fact all the characters were flawed (though I am a big fan of Vi).

I'm interested to know which contemporary authors you admire. Mumsnet had AM Homes as book of the month last year and I've read lots of her books since. I realise she's got a bit of a darker vision than you but do you like her work?

Can I ask about your MFA from Iowa Writer's Workshop - did you start the course with a novel in mind, and what do you think was the best aspect of taking a creative writing course?

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:34:02

minimuffin

I'm just posting now in case I can't join in the web chat tonight (pesky kids...!) but I will try.

I've enjoyed the book (thanks Mumsnet). I found it slow-going to begin with but by half way in I felt it was beautifully paced, with the alternation between the present and the past so well-balanced, like layers of paint being added to the character. I don't see Kate as submissive - I see her as someone who has made a really conscious decision about how she wants her life to play out and dedicates herself to it (until it all starts to unravel obviously). Vi was interesting whilst being annoying and in some ways their being twins reminded me a bit of the "Sliding Doors" film - this is how my life could have turned out. Like an alternative reality.

I found the depiction of family relationships in the book so so true - ageing parents and children, the sibling thing of them driving you to distraction but yet being able to understand them in a way no-one else can because of your shared childhood, and the ways that the demands of your own family (the one you've created) can clash with those of the family you came from. I found all the detail about motherhood very realistic and not too much - all rings very true. Even though I'm not nearly as rigorous as Kate about routine etc etc I know a lot of people who are. The bits about college life and that slightly rudderless feeling you can get when leaving university also brought back some memories - I really like your writing Curtis.

I didn't find the level of attention Vi got especially believable. I can't imagine that it would have got much further than the local press. But in a way it didn't matter, it was a way to build the story and make matters escalate out of the family's hands. The prediction and the idea of the senses a great one on lots of levels but I'd like to know where Curtis got the idea from. Was it something you read that set an idea running in your head, or were you looking for a device that would give a time pressure to the plot and take matters out of the hands of the immediate protagonists?

(Sorry this is all slightly garbled - typing between flipping pancakes. Hope to be back later!)

This is not garbled at all and is very thoughtful and eloquent. The inspiration for the earthquake prediction was a real person, Iben Browning, who predicted an earthquake in this area in December 1990. I went to a book club last night of some women who lived in St. Louis then and they themselves said they couldn't believe how anxious they'd been because, scientifically speaking, they should have known better and yet they got caught up in the panic. There was a lot of media attention, special drills in schools (hiding under your desk), and a woman I know said her mother made her come home from university so that the family could all sleep together on the first floor of their house.

EmLH Tue 04-Mar-14 21:35:34

Ha! Wishing I'd used slightly different wording now! Wasn't meant to be rude, I hope you know. I might be tempted by a buggered off into the sunset book, but fear there would be no suspense! As for Reese Witherspoon, yep, can see her as Kate.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:36:21

brendarenda

My question for Curtis is - you seem to tread a very careful line with your portrayal of ESP between scepticism and credibility. Is that deliberate? Was there ever a point when you were planning on having a real earthquake on the predicted date (instead of/as well as the domestic one)?

Well, there is a real earthquake, just not in St. Louis. But within the world of the book, I consider Vi more right than wrong, and Kate semi-right. They just use their skills together to come to the wrong conclusion. I'm not sure if I ever considered having the earthquake happen in St. Louis on that date...it seems like that would been, well, predictable.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:39:02

MissKate

Why did you want to write about Sisters and twins?

The earthquake prediction was the first part of the story that I decided to write about. And there aren't that many kind of people who make predictions, so that made a psychic a natural choice. I immediately thought that it would be more interesting to tell the story not from the point of view of the psychic herself but from the view of someone close to her, who feels embarrassed and implicated and worried all at once. So the narrator became her sister, and twins seem to me a slightly more dramatic version of regular sisters. I have two sisters and one brother, by the way--I'm Sibling #2.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:40:00

MrsSquirrel

Thanks for answering my question Curtis.
About the biscuit thing -
A few years ago Mumsnet had the prime minister Gordon Brown in for a live webchat. Somebody asked what his favourite biscuit was. (Favourite biscuit = favorite cookie) He answered all the questions about childcare, education policty, etc, but dodged the biscuit question. It attracted a lot of media attention and became a running joke on Mumsnet.

That's really funny. He must have very sordid taste in biscuits!

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:43:15

Calypso2

I really enjoyed Sisterland. I loved the details of everyday life and the fact all the characters were flawed (though I am a big fan of Vi).

I'm interested to know which contemporary authors you admire. Mumsnet had AM Homes as book of the month last year and I've read lots of her books since. I realise she's got a bit of a darker vision than you but do you like her work?

I read In A Country of Mothers a while back, but I haven't yet read May We Be Forgiven. I've heard that I need to! A recent book I just loved is "& Sons" by David Gilbert--it's fantastically great, about a JD Salinger-like author at the end of his life, and about New York and family and lots of other things. I just started (as in today) Mona Simpson's new book, which is called Casebook. I really love Mona Simpson's writing.

DottyDee Tue 04-Mar-14 21:43:56

Hi Curtis, I'm really enjoying reading your comments and loved the book. It's interesting that you hint at Kate's youngest boy being psychic. Why did you decide to do this? Was it to add symmetry,as Kate's father is also psychic?

MrsSquirrel Tue 04-Mar-14 21:44:46

My daughter wants to know if you have a favourite biscuit grin

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:47:57

TillyBookClub

Can I ask about your MFA from Iowa Writer's Workshop - did you start the course with a novel in mind, and what do you think was the best aspect of taking a creative writing course?

So the MFA program is two years. I entered on my 24th birthday (I was just a pup!). I started writing Prep, my first novel, while I was at Iowa, but I didn't really admit to myself that I was writing a novel--I pretended I was just writing different episodes about the life of the same girl at a boarding school. I had written a few hundred pages of the book before I acknowledged what I was doing, perhaps because it would have been too intimidating to acknowledge it from the start.

The best part was getting feedback from incredibly smart professors (themselves professional writers--Ethan Canin, Marilynne Robinson, Frank Conroy, Chris Offutt) and smart peers. It's a wonderful privilege to be surrounded by people who really care about writing. I learned a huge amount, but the number one thing I learned (from Ethan) was to focus on structure. I totally believe that a story, novel, etc. fails or succeeds based on structure above all else (other stuff matters but just not as much).

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:49:03

EmLH

Ha! Wishing I'd used slightly different wording now! Wasn't meant to be rude, I hope you know. I might be tempted by a buggered off into the sunset book, but fear there would be no suspense! As for Reese Witherspoon, yep, can see her as Kate.

I wasn't at all offended! After reading Sisterland, my husband told me I have the anxiety of Kate and the foul mouth of Vi. Isn't he a lucky man?!

Calypso2 Tue 04-Mar-14 21:49:08

Thanks for answering my question. I'll look out for David Gilbert and Mona Simpson. Do you read any British fiction?

I love reading everyone's reactions to the sisters, and who identifies with who.

I see Kate partly as an allegorical figure (to join the allegorical earthquake) - she ignores her psychic powers and therefore also ignores the most important feelings inside her, which leads her to make a bad decision and sleep with Hank.

I felt that both sisters constructed their own worlds to the extent of blocking out any others - Vi with her 'outsider' persona, and Kate with her domestic routine. The whole book seemed to me to be about how each of us creates their own reality, although some are accepted as 'real' and some are not.

I have to say I'm a Vi fan, and not so fond of Kate, although I understand why she acts as she does.

Curtis, do you have a favourite out of the two?

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:49:37

MrsSquirrel

My daughter wants to know if you have a favourite biscuit grin

Definitely chocolate chip.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:52:57

DottyDee

Hi Curtis, I'm really enjoying reading your comments and loved the book. It's interesting that you hint at Kate's youngest boy being psychic. Why did you decide to do this? Was it to add symmetry,as Kate's father is also psychic?

Well, I think it's clear that this is a book that stops without every loose end being tied up, and I suppose it seems realistic to me that Kate's life will be filled with complications going forward. But perhaps if her son has senses, she will see her own in a new (more forgiving?) way. I do think having children who are and aren't similar to you gives you such a different perspective on your own identity.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:56:04

Calypso2

Thanks for answering my question. I'll look out for David Gilbert and Mona Simpson. Do you read any British fiction?

Of course! I really admire Tessa Hadley a lot. I think she's quite similar to Alice Munro, who's my all-time favorite writer. There's a piece by Tessa Hadley that's either a story or novel excerpt (I read it in The New Yorker and can't remember which) about a young woman who's in love with her professor and dreams he'll fall in love with her and in the mean time she hooks up with a bartender who looks like the professor. And then--spoiler alert--her professor DOES fall in love with him, they marry, and years later she basically pretends to herself while hooking up with her husband that he's the professor. It's excellent!

I like Rachel Cusk too--she's on the exact border of how much acidity I can and can't tolerate in writing.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 21:59:55

TillyBookClub

I love reading everyone's reactions to the sisters, and who identifies with who.

I see Kate partly as an allegorical figure (to join the allegorical earthquake) - she ignores her psychic powers and therefore also ignores the most important feelings inside her, which leads her to make a bad decision and sleep with Hank.

I felt that both sisters constructed their own worlds to the extent of blocking out any others - Vi with her 'outsider' persona, and Kate with her domestic routine. The whole book seemed to me to be about how each of us creates their own reality, although some are accepted as 'real' and some are not.

I have to say I'm a Vi fan, and not so fond of Kate, although I understand why she acts as she does.

Curtis, do you have a favourite out of the two?

I don't think I'd ever write a book whose primary characters I didn't feel affection for--after all, I have to spend time with these people day in and day out for years. I like both Vi and Kate. Of course, through out the book I know that Kate is going to make a huge mistake so I don't resent her "perfection" or what others perceive as self-righteousness in her. I also get a kick out of Vi, as in real life I often get a kick out of people, especially women, with "big personalities." I like people who talk a lot, assuming they're at least slightly interesting, and who are irreverent. Life is so much more fun when people say inappropriate things. (Hmm, can you tell it's been a long time since I've worked in an office?!)

Damn, we're running out of time.

Thank you to everyone who posted their thoughts and questions. It has been such an illuminating and interesting discussion this month.

Curtis, thank you very very much indeed for joining us tonight and providing such thoughtful and generous answers. I still have so many things I want to ask you, so please will you come back again when you have finished your next book (and can I squeeze in one last question and ask what you are working on at the moment?)

Good luck with the next project and many thanks once again for a very enjoyable evening.

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 22:01:11

I think maybe our time together is wrapping up. Thank you all so much for the great feedback, zesty opinions, and fun questions. From one mother to another, hope you all get a good night's sleep!

CurtisSittenfeld Tue 04-Mar-14 22:02:30

TillyBookClub

Damn, we're running out of time.

Thank you to everyone who posted their thoughts and questions. It has been such an illuminating and interesting discussion this month.

Curtis, thank you very very much indeed for joining us tonight and providing such thoughtful and generous answers. I still have so many things I want to ask you, so please will you come back again when you have finished your next book (and can I squeeze in one last question and ask what you are working on at the moment?)

Good luck with the next project and many thanks once again for a very enjoyable evening.

I'm now writing a present-day Pride & Prejudice set in the U.S., part of HarperCollins' larger Austen project. Yes, really! Stay tuned...

SummerDaisy Tue 04-Mar-14 23:53:41

Absolutely adored America Wife so very excited to read the new book

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Thu 06-Mar-14 11:19:24

Thank you for answering my question, Curtis. Look forward to the next book very much.

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