Her psychic sister’s prediction of a major earthquake unsettles a St. Louis woman’s life in the latest from best-selling Sittenfeld (American Wife, 2008, etc.).
Although identical twins Violet and Daisy Shramm as girls both had “the senses,” Daisy suppressed her abilities as part of her transformation into ordinary Kate Tucker, wife to Washington University professor Jeremy and mother to toddler Rosie and baby Owen. She’s mortified by being related to a professional psychic and appalled when Vi publicly contradicts seismologist Courtney Wheeling, who says a small quake that rattles St. Louis in September 2009 is not necessarily a prelude to a bigger one. Courtney is Jeremy’s colleague, and her husband, Hank, also a stay-at-home parent, is close with Kate’s. Vi is oblivious to the messy reality of life with small children, and we frequently see her imposing on her overwhelmed sister while condemning Kate (not without justification) as uptight and controlling; it’s a skillful way for Sittenfeld to spotlight the differences that make the twins’ interactions so fraught. The present-day narrative, moving toward the date Vi set for the big quake, intertwines with Kate’s memories of childhood and adolescence to explain why she felt so threatened by her powers—and to reveal a marriage as fraught in its own ways as Kate’s bond with Vi. Jeremy is exasperated by his wife’s anxieties, which sometimes threaten to dominate their lives; she feels inferior to her better educated, more relaxed spouse. The novel has some structural problems; scenes from the twins’ past take up more pages than their intrinsic interest merits and sometimes annoyingly interrupt the compelling main story. These flaws are insignificant compared with the powerful denouement: a shocking yet completely plausible act by Kate and its grim consequences for her marriage. The quiet closing pages remind us that damaged bonds can be repaired.
A rich portrait of intricate relationships within and among families by one of commercial fiction’s smartest, most perceptive practitioners.