Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld and The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan


I despise the classification ‘literary fiction’ and ‘popular fiction’. I can’t stand the implications that go along with it.  As if the only books worth reading challenge your mind in some undefinable way and everything else is on par with what you might find in a tabloid.  It’s not true.  Every book speaks to each reader in a different way — who are we to judge your relationship?  Hated The Sun Also Rises but loved Eat, Pray, Love? That’s cool.  Fell asleep reading One Day but devoured Invisible Cities? Go with it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as long as you’re interacting with what you’re reading, the books you are reading are fantastic.

Blogging helps me interact with books I read, especially the ones I read and liked.  I’m not eager to talk about The Book Thief but I am looking forward to discussing Sisterland and The Engagements.  Have you read either of them? If you haven’t, I’ll wait while you put them on hold at the library.

Done? Great.

I always mentally group Curtis Sittenfeld and J. Courtney Sullivan together because the first books I read of theirs — coincidentally also the first books they published — I read back to back, in that order.  It was the summer before I left for university.  I spent the lonely month of September in their company.  First came Prep, then Commencement read in the order in which I found them on the shelves at Barnes & Nobles. The summer after I read Maine, but I still haven’t found the time to read American Wife. One of these days, I will.

Bookbinder in Skansen

I read Sisterland and The Engagements in the order that I first met their respective authors.  Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland tells the story of two twins living near St. Louis who have supernatural powers and deal with them in different ways.  These manners reflect their unique life paths and are starkly contrasted when one goes public with her premonition that an earthquake will strike the city.  Their reactions are fascinating and more real than you expect.  The Engagements takes wholly different path.  The novels tells different tales of relationships.  Some happy, some sad but all ruled by the diamond that’s forever.  Both books are stories of relationships and reactions.

What makes the difference between the two books is the reader’s bond with the characters.  In Sisterland we take part in a turbulent life moment, while we merely observes the vignettes threaded together in The Engagements.  Sullivan’s tactice of weaving together myriad viewpoints works when they come together, but in this story they never meet, leaving the reader feeling as if they’re waiting for an earthquake that never happens.  It’s exactly the reverse that makes Sisterland so compelling.  When we’re allowed to hear only one side of a twin narrative, the tension rises.  Whereas The Engagements takes the plausible and makes it feel like a film, Sisterland takes the implausible and makes it feel natural.

Sisterland bears little resemblance to Prep while The Engagements is narrated from a variety of viewpoints like Sullivan’s previous novels.  It’s interesting to see the authors’ progress, as both stories feel distinct from the first ones I read.  They’re more grown up, a bit more aware of their place in a larger dialogue.  I guess I am as well.

Popular, literary or just dark good, these stories from Sittenfeld and Sullivan are something to think about.  Isn’t that why we read after all?

What was the last book you read that made you think?

P.S. I don’t blog about everything I read! Need some recommendations? Want to talk about your book? I’m updating it all on Goodreads!


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