A woman frantically searches for her twin, who’s missing in more ways than one.
Diaz-Ludden’s (Mandela’s Reach, 2014, etc.) latest novel opens with Anne, the narrator, drinking from a porcelain teacup with cracks that have been filled with gold: “I think that if people were repaired the same way; foreheads etched with brass hairline fractures, chips of silver embedded along fingers, bolts of gold shot through hearts, then we would know the places to be careful with.” Though Anne might not be threaded by silver and gold, readers still learn about her most delicate relationships—to her Portland, Oregon, coffee shop, The Bean; and to her twin sister, Suz. The Bean is Anne’s passion—her beloved coffee addiction is well-documented throughout the book—and she’s fighting against Portland’s new infrastructure plans, which threaten the store’s location. But even more precarious is her relationship with Suz, who technically co-owns the shop but whose abandonment of the business has created distance in their once tight bond (always fascinated by Nelson Mandela, Suz has moved to South Africa to do humanitarian work). The story begins when Suz, in town visiting from Johannesburg, seemingly disappears after a drunken night out with her sister. Anne, their friends, her brother and father try to find her but to no avail, and Anne’s memories of the last night they had together are hazy. Though she frequently syncs up with Suz—a side plot involves Anne suddenly being able to inhabit Suz’s body, an ability she’s had since they were quite young—that superpower is of little help. To find her sister, Anne turns to Suz’s online presence and discovers the secret life her beloved sister has been living. The writing is polished in this strong narrative, though there are a few clichéd lines: “Coffee, like life, is complicated” or “Besides, the world is more comprehensible when things stay exactly where they belong.” Anne and Suz’s syncing plot feels unnecessary, but the narrative’s slow unraveling—particularly related to how the twins’ mother lived and died with alcoholism—strengthens its characters, especially Anne, whose actions to save her sister and store make more sense in light of her mom’s revealed history. At times, though, it feels like the author bit off more than she can chew: She dedicates quite a bit of energy to Suz’s obsession with Mandela, a well-worn idea that doesn’t feel fully realized here. Still, Diaz-Ludden captures the casual camaraderie of coffee shop clientele and the easy dialogue between family and friends.
An enjoyable novel about sisterhood and independence—not as addicting as coffee, but still smooth and satisfying.