The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
Brunonia Barry’s debut novel The Lace Reader takes place in Salem, Mass., and the town’s history of witches creates the perfect backdrop for this mystical thriller. And while there were no witches in Salem during the witch hunts, there certainly are now – creating, as one policeman says, “the profit center for the town.”
Barry has done a perfect job of creating an off-kilter world as seen, primarily, through the eyes of Towner Whitney, who is mentally unstable because, as she tells it, her mother gave her twin sister away at birth – after all, she had a spare and her sister had none. Towner tells the reader from the very first page that she is a liar and is not to be trusted with the truth.
The story weaves back and forth through time, relating a childhood that was richly lived on an island off the Salem coast and the present time, where the town’s most eccentric woman, Eva, a mainstay in Towner’s life, has recently drowned – or did she? Dead or not, she is still alive for Towner and she is helping Towner read the future through the patterns in lace.
As Towner tries to sort out the mystery of Eva’s death and that of her twin sister, we are taken through the dysfunction of the Whitney family, which includes a former member by marriage – the evil Cal Boynton – who has become a cult leader in Salem. The cult, ironically named the Calvinists, is determined to rid the town of the witches, creating much of the tension in the book.
The Lace Reader is rich with imagery, and Barry drops subtle clues to the real story and the book’s startling conclusion throughout, like pennies in the sand – seemingly not worth retrieving. The threads of this literary novel come together over time to create a story as intricate as lace itself. When you finish the book, you will want to go right back to the beginning and read it again to pick up those clues that clearly pointed to the truth all along.
Harper/HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06162-447-3; $14.99
The Lace Reader website
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