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The Lace Reader: A Novel

A book by Brunonia Barry

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Witchy story has dreamlike but disjointed feel

  • Aug 12, 2008
  • by
Rating:
+1
Salem witchery, fortune telling, mind reading and old secrets - what's not to like?

In addition to the tantalizing plot material, this book has been getting a lot of rags-to-riches type hype: first time author self publishes and strikes it rich with a mainstream publisher and international excitement.

And truth be told, it's an entertaining, atmospheric story, with its rocky coast, island recluses, handsome cop and old families. Narrator Towner Whitney comes from a long line of lace readers - women who can glimpse the future in the patterns of their homemade Ipswich lace. But Towner fled her town and her heritage for Southern California 15 years before when her twin sister Lyndley died and Towner ended up in a mental hospital. She has vowed never to read lace or return to Salem.

But now her beloved Aunt Eva is missing and Towner must go home. Although once back in Salem Towner feels Eva's presence in her big old house, the old woman's body turns up in the ocean, drowned. Eva did swim every day, but Towner is sure she never would have left the harbor. At age 85, she knew her limits.

Eva has left Towner everything, which includes the family Towner left behind - her agoraphobic island-dwelling mother May, who instructs abused women in the art of lace; her younger brother Beezer who is getting married; her damaged Aunt Emma, Eva's daughter, who was brutally beaten by her husband Cal, and Cal, who has now found redemption as a Calvinist preacher railing against the town's Wiccan population.

Looking for answers and running from them at the same time, Towner reels from place to place and person-to-person, haunted by memories, some of which may be delusions. Towner tells us early on that she lost much of her memory during electroshock treatment after Lyndley's death.

Barry unfolds the story in dreamlike fashion, relying on atmosphere, visions and elusive memory to weave her spell. There's a bit of romance in the two damaged men in Towner's life - her old boyfriend Jack and the new lawman, Rafferty. The problems with the book mostly stem from Towner's character - sullen, brooding and unstable, and a disjointed feel to the plot. The menacing Calvinists never feel quite real and some of the revelations feel more histrionic than magical. And many readers will see the ending coming from a ways off.

Still, Barry captures the atmosphere of cold, treacherous ocean, rocky New England coast, dark Puritan heritage and old, "quirky" families with their share of witchy women.

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More The Lace Reader: A Novel reviews
review by . August 10, 2010
I'm captivated by the story of Salem, Massachusetts, its witch trials, and old secrets. I think that's what attracted me to the novel in the first place, as well as the name. I had not heard of reading lace, and found the concept intriguing. So glad that I made the choice to read, as it has become one of my favorites.      Towner Whitney returns to Salem after the disappearance of her Aunt Eva, her former guardian and dear friend. While there, she tries to unravel the …
review by . August 06, 2008
Brunonia Barry's impressive debut novel is not set in Kansas, but in Salem, MA, forever infamous as the home of witches and other "crazies". The site of the tragic trials in 1692 is like no other town in the US. Setting her story of a mentally unbalanced young woman in Salem was a brilliant choice, because its foggy, mystical elements are more easily accepted against that most eccentric of backgrounds.    Protagonist Towner (Sophya) Whitney starts telling us her biographical …
review by . July 23, 2008
I really looked forward to reading this book. The excerpts from the reviews were ecstatic in its praise, and the little blurb about the book was intriguing. Unfortunately, I really did not enjoy this work. It's difficult to take a book seriously when the narrator is named Towner and her brother is called Beezer (this is not "to Kill A Mockingbird after all). Reading through this book was like swimming in molasses! It took an ungodly amount of time for the plot(?) to kick in, and by then I had just …
review by . July 16, 2008
Barely out of the hospital in CA, recovering from life-saving surgery, Towner Whitney is called home to Salem MA because her great-aunt Eva is missing. Towner reluctantly returns to the town she abandoned after the death of her twin sister, only to discover her great-aunt is dead. As Towner and others grapple with their belief that her uncle Cal is to blame for Eva's death, events in town escalate toward further violence. Towner herself starts to unravel as the secret of her past are brought to …
About the reviewer
Lynn Harnett ()
Ranked #183
I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … more
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Wiki

Amazon Best of the Month, August 2008: Brunonia Barry dreamt she saw a prophecy in a piece of lace, a vision so potent she spun it into a novel. The Lace Reader retains the strange magic of a vivid dream, though Barry's portrayal of modern-day Salem, Massachusetts--with its fascinating cast of eccentrics--is reportedly spot-on. Some of its stranger residents include generations of Whitney women, with a gift for seeing the future in the lace they make. Towner Whitney, back to Salem from self-imposed exile on the West Coast, has plans for recuperation that evaporate with her great-aunt Eva's mysterious drowning. Fighting fear from a traumatic adolescence she can barely remember, Towner digs in for answers. But questions compound with the disappearance of a young woman under the thrall of a local fire-and-brimstone preacher, whose history of violence against Whitney women makes the situation personal for Towner. Her role in cop John Rafferty's investigation sparks a tentative romance. And as they scramble to avert disaster, the past that had slipped through the gaps in Towner's memory explodes into the present with a violence that capsizes her concept of truth. Readers will look back at the story in a new light, picking out the clues in this complex, lovely piece of work. --Mari Malcolm
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Details

ISBN-10: 0061624764
ISBN-13: 978-0061624766
Author: Brunonia Barry
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: William Morrow
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