Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

  • The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
  • Publisher: William Morrow (July 29, 2008 )
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0061624764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061624766

The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry’s debut novel, deserves all the advance praise it has received; it is one of my favorite books of 2008!  This book will draw you in with well-developed plot, subtle twists and clever revelations.  The comparison has been drawn to a piece of finely-worked lace, in which every thread is needed to yield the finished product; nothing is extraneous in this engaging mystery.

The opening of The Lace Reader finds the protagonist, Towner Whitney, returning to Salem, Massachusetts after many years away.  She has been summoned home due to the disappearance of a favorite family member, her great-aunt Eva.  Eva, as well as Towner and most of the Whitney women, has the gift of “reading” people – seeing their future through patterns revealed in pieces of lace.  Towner has been uncomfortable with this unwanted talent for most of her life, and has completely denied it since the death of her twin sister, Lyndley.

The settings in The Lace Reader are realistically and fully portrayed.  Salem is the prime location, with its cobblestone streets, the town green and the shops and historic homes along the waterfront; even the local grocery store, Crosby’s, gets a mention.  Another venue is the fictional Yellow Dog Island, where Towner’s mother, May, runs a shelter of sorts for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.  The women live isolated, yet safe, on their small island, making lace that is sold on the mainland.

Barry blends historic themes of the abolitionist’s Underground Railway with May’s work helping women and children.  The Salem witch hysteria of the 1600s parallels the book’s portrayal of distrust of the “witches” and “readers” by a group of religious fanatics in the mid-1990s.  Using a combination of third-person narration, first-person in Towner’s voice, and a series of extensive journal entries, she skillfully combines the various perspectives in this captivating novel.

See my post of July 18 for more information about The Lace Reader, including links to the official website and to an opportunity to win a trip to Salem, sponsored by the publisher, the William Morrow division of HarperCollins.  There is an excellent article in The Daily News Tribune about Barry, her experience writing and self-publishing The Lace Reader, and the impact the book has already had on the town of Salem.

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