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The Lace Reader
The Lace Reader
by Brunonia Barry

Awesome literary debut! Poetic, mysterious.
In the town of Salem, Massachusetts, innocent women needing to be controlled were once accused of witchcraft. Now Salem plays host to a group of women who openly parade around as witches and a whole tourist industry reenacts the past in broad daylight. A new religious group calling themselves the Calvinists goes about admonishing and threatening witches and unusual or strong women. Towner's great aunt is a lace reader, a woman who can read the future in lace. Her home and the lace reader group become a sanctuary for women escaping their abusive husbands. Together this circle of women find support and strength.

Towner comes back to town after her aunt Eva goes missing, embarking on a journey that puts her past and present life into perspective. She meets Rafferty, the detective intent on solving the case. Together, their perspectives create an aura of mystery to the events of both the past and present. Towner narrates the history of Salem, Salem's current life, her own personal history and her present in a unique pattern as finely interwoven as lace. Each chapter is prefaced by a quote from the Lace Reader's Guide written by Eva describing the art, history and technique of lace reading and the Ipswich lace makers. Towner's life is like the lace with fine threads all interwoven yet converging. The reader follows all the strands in her life, not as a straight direct kind of plot, but as different memories, some reliable and others imagined, all forming the uniqueness of a piece of art---the life of human being. Brunonia Barry's narrative presents a portrait of Towner not as an isolated separate individual but a person with whom other lives converge. Yellow Dog Island's circle of women reinforces this theme on the interconnectedness of individuals.

This novel was incredible. Brunonia Barry does deal with some hard issues like spousal abuse so if you are looking for a light, happy easy read, this is not a good choice. That warning being said, this novel was awesome! THE LACE READER inspires readers to follow with the imagination and go it where it leads. By the end, all the narrative threads and images add up to something spectacular and rich as past and present and landscape, history and the personal all combine. THE LACE READER is a novel built in layers and nuances like a person's life or like the memories in the mind or like the depths of psychology. THE LACE READER has some surprising and poetic twists towards the end. There is no guaranteed happy easily resolved ending --- but the ending has it's own kind of satisfying richness that combines deep emotion, sadness, even trauma into a new beginning and a new sense of freedom. Beautifully poetic!

Publisher: William Morrow (July 2008)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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