By Linda Bulger
It’s not remarkable for a novel to start with the death of an 80-year-old woman. If she dies while water-skiing, as Anne Shields does in Irish Twins, the reader’s attention is engaged. And if the story then turns to a transitional afterlife where Anne is guided to an assessment of her life and the tasks still undone, you know you’re reading a truly original novel.
Anne’s guide in the afterlife is her Irish Twin, Molly. Together they observe the events of Anne’s life as she catered to the needs of her five children and her husband, Michael. The two youngest daughters of Anne and Michael are also Irish Twins–siblings born within twelve months–and their lives had been changed by the loss of their mother. So much for Anne to understand, so many secrets, so much still undone. Will she have another chance to give her daughters what they need from her?
Author Michele VanOrt Cozzens spins a mesmerizing story with unusual elements. Her characters Anne and Molly, assessing Anne’s life together, see the past as well as the present through the steam rising from cups of tea; it’s like a “perpetual dream” with images appearing and then fading through the steam. The tea serves as a “crystal ball” allowing them access to the world from their spiritual waiting room. The story that emerges in Irish Twins is likewise veiled and fragmented, finally coming together in an unexpected conclusion.
This story would have been good as a straightforward family tale; but in using the unusual afterlife thread and breaking the family story into misty fragments of past and present, Cozzens lifts it above the crowd and makes it quite unforgettable. Surrounding the reader with sadness and laughter, full of hope and regret, written in a wistful style so that you wish it wouldn’t end so soon, it’s a book you don’t want to miss. Highly recommended.
Linda Bulger, 2010