The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry is perhaps one of the most intriguing novels I have read this year. Her characters are richly detailed and easily come to life in your mind. The ending is surprising, and it leaves you stunned. I wanted to go back and re-read it immediately to try to catch more details. This story is so full of tiny details and hints that you could probably pick out something new every time you read it, no matter how many times you read it.
I wanted to read this novel when I heard about it because I used to work in Salem, MA. I worked at the Salem 1630 Pioneer Village, so was very familiar with the stocks that Cal displayed his young “confessed witch” in. I have a picture of my little sister in those same stocks. She captured aspects of life in Salem so well, it sent me on many a trip down memory lane as I read through the novel, yet it just added to the book instead of taking away from it. It made the characters more real to set them in so well to this familiar setting.
This story centers around Sofya Whitney or Towner as she prefers to be called. She comes from a family with a long history of women who could read the future through images they pick out in patterns of lace. I am not 100% sure that this describes an actual practice or not, but given the number of things that the human mind can distinguish patterns in, I would not be surprised if it is an actual tradition either. What matters for the story though, is that it is richly described and meticulously detailed and is the mechanic that moves the plot in new and interesting directions, and informs the reader that all is not as it appears.
Rafferty, a detective that befriends Eva, the matron of the family, tries to get close to Towner and is one of the people in the end who is most successful in helping her through her many ordeals. The high praises that Eva gave of Towner conflicts with the town’s opinion that she was plain crazy, and causes him to dig deeper to solve the mysteries of her past. Towner narrates chunks of her past as you read through the book, but as you read, you learn that her memory has holes, and after all, she is a self confessed liar.
This book contains mysteries within mysteries, what really happened to cause Eva’s disappearance? Who was behind it? What lays behind Towner’s aversion to reading the future hidden in lace, or to being read herself? Though Towner desperately wants to leave Salem and never return, all her hopes, fears and past history lay in these streets – what is she running from? Once I started reading it I was unable to put it down. To find out all of the answers to these questions, run to the nearest book store and pick up a copy!