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In 'Sisterland,' Familial Fissures And A Pair Of Psychic Twins

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In 'Sisterland,' Familial Fissures And A Pair Of Psychic Twins

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In 'Sisterland,' Familial Fissures And A Pair Of Psychic Twins

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Curtis Sittenfeld made a name for herself in 2005 when she published the novel "Prep" about an angst-ridden scholarship student at a fancy boarding school. Then in 2008 came "American Wife." The main character was the first lady, loosely based on Laura Bush. Now, she's published a new novel: "Sisterland." Reviewer Sloane Crosley says in all three, what stands out is Sittenfeld's ability to enter the minds of her characters.

SLOANE CROSLEY: Here, the story is about a pair of psychic twin sisters in St. Louis. You might expect to hear narration from both sisters, but Sittenfeld doesn't do that. Instead, we only hear from one: Kate.

Kate first notices her senses as a kid. But after one particularly traumatic teenage sleepover involving a Ouija board and a popular girl, she starts to feel ashamed. A dark presence informs her of impending deaths and affairs and all sorts of things not fit for teenage brains. Kate is so frightened of her powers that she adopts a kind of keep-making-that-face-and-you'll-get-stuck-like-that mentality.

You see, the book Sittenfeld is writing is less about making psychics believable than about making psychic shame and embarrassment believable. OK. I know what you're thinking: Being a psychic is cool. Why shouldn't Kate come to embrace her powers? Well, Sittenfeld has an insurance policy for this doubt: the other sister.

Violet is less skittish than Kate. She's promiscuous, judgmental, overweight, embarrassing and occasionally offensive. She also makes her living as a professional psychic. She may not have a regular job or be able to drive a car, but at least she knows who she is, more or less.

When "Sisterland" opens, Violet has just gone on local TV, predicting a major earthquake. Vi's predictions threaten to unravel Kate's carefully manufactured world which, of course, was already unraveling before the book began.

Of course, "Sisterland" is more about sisters than psychics. The book's only major fault line is that Sittenfeld sometimes feels the need to act like a one-woman cleanup crew. She gets bogged down in flashback and back-story. Still, Sittenfeld puts her empathetic abilities to use here. She creates a genuinely engrossing sense of suspense even when she herself knows precisely what the future will bring.

SIEGEL: The novel is "Sisterland" by Curtis Sittenfeld. Our reviewer Sloane Crosley is the author of the essay collection "How Did You Get This Number."

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