A playwright’s debut novel examines the relationships among strangers brought together by a New York City coffeehouse.
Four months after the 9/11 attacks, Habib el Kader is woken from a recurring nightmare by a phone call from his boss, Jack Healy. Healy delivers the disorienting news that someone has broken into their cafe and stolen the cash box. With little to work from and despite staff testimony to the contrary, the police clearly suspect Habib. Meanwhile, the robbery has the customers speculating and tensions brewing. The narrative viewpoint alternates among various characters, encompassing several patrons and staff members but focusing primarily on the two managers, Habib and David Goldman. Habib is a Muslim father of three whose professional goal is to buy The Coffee Connection from Healy. David is an Israeli former law student struggling to find direction in life as he debates proposing to his girlfriend. The two peacefully coexist, respecting but not fully understanding each other. In addition to the staff, Simmons quickly introduces a robust cast of coffeehouse customers. Examples include a hotheaded political extremist, a thoughtful but obsessive scholar, a pair of aspiring Broadway stars, and a collection of middle-aged schoolteachers who refer to themselves as the Kaffeeklatsch. Although the large cast offers plenty of opportunities for intriguing interpersonal dynamics, it takes a certain amount of effort to keep the various characters from blurring together. Interspersed between the chapters are excerpts from The Almost Complete History of Coffee, an exhaustive research project that dominates the life of one of the patrons. The author’s representation of the beverage is very romantic. The History proclaims that “Coffee has bound men together and torn them apart. It has soothed men’s soul and stimulated their minds. It has liberated some people and brought others to bondage.” While the plot may not be very energetic, the subtlety with which Simmons reveals the characters’ inclinations and biases proves her to be a delicate and perceptive writer.
A contemplative representation of the public attitude and cultural atmosphere in the wake of 9/11.