THE LACE READER by Brunonia Barry is a most unusual book. It is a mystery but it is also fantasy. The first few sentences set the tone of the book: “My name is Towner Whitney. No, that’s not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time.
I am a crazy woman….That last part is true.”
Towner has returned to Salem, Massachusetts after 15 years in California. Her family have deep roots in Salem and in its history. The women of the Whitney family are lace makers but they are also lace readers. They can hold a piece of lace in front of a person’s face and, by squinting their eyes, they can tell the past, the present and the future.
There are multiple strands running through multiple generations. The connections are vague because the relationships aren’t revealed except through innuendo, story-telling, and imagery.
The women of the Whitney family have the gift of prophecy but it has not served them in their own lives. There are supernatural visions and fantasy episodes so that it is difficult to know what is true, what is really the story.
A significant character in the book is the city of Salem. Although it was an important shipping center, it is best known for the witch trials and, as such, it is a city flooded by tourists, especially in October. The author lives in Salem and her descriptions of the city and its ambiance are perfect. (I live less than an hour away). Salem has an official witch, Laurie Cabot and its primary source of revenue is built on the Salem Witch trials of the colonial period. The author includes feminism, physical abuse, suicide, and grief and loss as elements that form the women of the Whitney family, especially Towner.
THE LACE READER is difficult to review because to write about it is to tell too much.
Fantasy is not a particular favorite but the writing is beautiful and the reason I read the book. The author creates powerful images that, in most instances, cloud perceptions rather than clarify them.
Interestingly, THE LACE READER was self-published before it was purchased by Morrow. Barry and her husband delivered boxes of unbound pages of the books to reading groups in the Salem area.
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