Sisterland

9781410460189_p0_v1_s260x420If you knew an earthquake was coming to your neighborhood, would you leave town? Curtis Sittenfeld uses this premise in Sisterland while addressing how siblings are never alike – except when they are.  Adding to the drama, the sisters in the book – Violet and Daisy – are twins with psychic powers or maybe just a sharper sense of intuition.

The story moves back and forth from the girls’ childhood in the seventies of St. Louis, Missouri to present day, with Violet’s fifteen minutes of fame, including an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, when she predicts an earthquake on a specific date in the midwest town.  Although both girls share more than a sisterly connection, branding their room “sisterland” as well as their unusual gift for understanding and knowing the others’ thoughts as a shared sister land, only Violet progresses to adulthood as a paid medium.  Daisy, now Kate as an adult, marries a geophysicist, has two children, and burns any possibility of lingering extraordinary “senses” in a silver bowl after her daughter is born.  Although the plot line is melodramatic and, at times, more like a soap opera, Sittenfeld downplays the psychic talent and concentrates on the descriptions of daily life for the sisters.  Kate, the responsible twin, counters Violet’s behavior as the free spirit.  Yet, they understand each other, and share a unique communication that is realistic and engaging.

The sisters’ connections with family and friends add to the drama.  Courtney, the slim, intelligent seismologist and colleague of Kate’s husband, provides a counterpoint for the sisters’ less prestigious career choices. Courtney’s stay-at-home husband creates a confidante for Kate.  Jeremy, the handsome university professor husband, manages his life with Kate and his strange sister-in-law with patience and detached realism, until the possibility of the earthquake threatens to undermine his attendance at an out-of-town conference.  His decision to leave, despite his sister-in-law’s warning and his wife’s pleading, leads to a figurative earthquake at home.

Knowing whether or not the real earthquake actually happens would spoil the anticipation that keeps the narrative moving – and kept me reading.  More importantly, the drama that unfolds shakes the story and leaves behind extraordinary aftershocks.  The book can be long-winded at times, but an easy, entertaining read.

Farewell, Dorothy Parker

9780399159077_p0_v1_s260x420The joy of being able to deliver a zinger when needed does not always come at the appropriate moment – unless you are Dorothy Parker.  Ellen Meister reincarnates this caustic critic, known for her quick wit and timely repartee in her romantic comedy  – Farewell, Dorothy Parker.

Violet, a movie critic with her own range of critical commentary, has trouble translating her unleashed literary verve into her personal life.   In the midst of being taken advantage of by her boyfriend, her dead sister’s in-laws, and a young aspiring editorial assistant, Violet inadvertently releases the ghost of Dorothy Parker from the famous Algonquin Round Table guest book.

When the book is open, Ms. Parker appears in all her glory – smoking, drinking gin, and lobbing one-liners.  As the story progresses, Meister fills in much of Parker’s biography – fun to renew if you are a fan of the famous nineteen twenties writer, a revelation if you only knew Dorothy Parker as the person who said: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Eventually, Parker resolves her own fear of “going into the light,” and leaves Violet with renewed spunk to refreshingly live out her own life.  The story has melodramatic moments but it was a quick read on a Kindle that left me laughing and yearning to find some of Dorothy Parker’s short stories and poems (and wanting to lunch at the Algonquin).

One of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems:

“Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.
Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.”

For A Taste of Dorothy Parker: