When the first thing a narrator tells you is that she lies you know you’re in for some odd twists and turns. So begins THE LACE READER by Brunonia Barry; the story of the prophetic Towner Whitney who returns to her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts when the great aunt who helped raised her disappears.
Towner, a self described liar and crazy woman had vowed never to return to Salem after witnessing the suicide of her twin sister as a teen. Following the tragedy she spent time in a mental institution complete with electro-shock therapy that has left her memory of the incident and her teenage years spotty at best.
Back in Salem, Towner stumbles through the returning memories of her past and into some present day craziness between her Great Aunt Eva’s disappearance and the disappearance of a young pregnant girl Towner meets on her first day back in town. Both situations seem somehow tied to the creepy uncle, Cal Boynton who helped raised Towner’s twin.
Are you confused yet? The Whitney family relationships are maybe a bit unnecessarily complex, or are they? Remember, our narrator is both crazy and a liar.
Now… on to the witches. I said Salem, Massachusetts…you knew they were coming, didn’t you? There are witches in the book, though not in a goofy Bewitched kind of way. There is a clear religion vs. spirituality theme running throughout the book along with some psychic stuff (i.e. the lace reading) and host of characters who either embrace or deny these philosophies for various reasons.
Perception vs. reality also plays a huge part in the book. The very act of reading lace has everything to do with how you look at it and who is on the other side. Each character in the book is written with purpose and with quirks that I think would make for some good book club discussion. Take the missing Aunt Eva for example, she is a strong defiant woman who embraces her gift of lace reading, holds the family and the town together in many ways and speaks in clichés. Then there’s Rafferty, the possible love interest for Towner, who is a local police officer, a former alcoholic and a single dad. And May, Towner’s mother, is a gun-toting recluse who has revived the art of lace making while rescuing battered women.
The book is complex, and though you may realize a plot twist is coming, you’re not really sure what it’s going to be, which to me is masterful. I mean, don’t you hate when you’re reading (or sitting in a movie) and you’re like “Oh – okay, I know what’s happening here… that guy is already dead…” (or whatever).
I think the beauty of a book like THE LACE READER is that you could read it on the beach for the story alone, OR you could really dive in and discuss and debate the characters and themes. For me, the beauty is also that I’ve found an author that I’d be happy to read again. And the good news is her next book THE MAP OF TRUE PLACES just came out!
– Dana Barrett, Editor