The Lace Reader: A Novel

By Brunonia Barry
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:William Morrow, (8/1/2008)
Language:English



Average Rating:
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3.67 out of 5 (3 Clubie's ratings)


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Every gift has a price . . .

Every piece of lace has a secret . . .

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. . . .

Towner Whitney, the self-confessed unreliable narrator of The Lace Reader, hails from a family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns in lace, and who have guarded a history of secrets going back generations, but the disappearance of two women brings Towner home to Salem and the truth about the death of her twin sister to light.

The Lace Reader is a mesmerizing tale that spirals into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths in which the reader quickly finds it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction, but as Towner Whitney points out early on in the novel, "There are no accidents."

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Lizzy's thoughts on "The Lace Reader: A Novel"
updated on:5/5/2010



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booksrulejamie's thoughts on "The Lace Reader: A Novel"
updated on:2/13/2010


The Lace Reader is one of those books that you tend to think you have the plot all figured out and bang!  The author throws a twist in there.  I loved that the ending wasn't what I expected.  It's refreshing to find a book that can't be predicted.


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Bay Booksters's thoughts on "The Lace Reader: A Novel"
updated on:5/22/2009



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"The Lace Reader: A Novel"
By Brunonia Barry

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.67 out of 5 (3 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

1. For centuries, women have used lace as an adornment for their clothes and as a decoration for their homes. Just a small piece of lace on a sleeve could evoke a sense of luxury, beauty, and elegance. How does your family use lace today? Is it used every day or only on special occasions?

2. Have any pieces of lace been passed down to you or someone else in your family? If so, what feelings do you associate with these heirloom pieces of lace?

3. The author states that The Lace Reader is, at its core, about perception vs. reality. How does Rafferty's perception of Towner color his judgment of what she says and does? What about Rafferty's perception of Cal and his actions?

4. At the very start of The Lace Reader, Towner Whitney, the protagonist, tells the reader that she's a liar and that she's crazy. By the end of the book do you agree with her?

5. Eva reveals that she speaks in clichés so that her words do not influence the choices made by the recipients of her lace reading sessions. Do you think that's possible? Can a cliché be so over used that it loses its original meaning?

6. When May comments on the relationship between Rafferty and Towner, she states that they are too alike and predicts that "You won't just break apart. You'll send each other flying." Did you agree with that when you read it? And if so, in what ways are Towner and Rafferty alike?

7. The handmade lace industry of Ipswich quickly vanished when lace-making machines were introduced. At that same moment, the economic freedom of the women making the handmade lace also evaporated. Why do you think that these women didn't update their business, buy the machines, and own a significant portion of the new lace-making industry?

8. Do you think that May's revival of the craft of handmade lace with the abused women on Yellow Dog Island is purely symbolic or could it be, in some way, very practical?

9. What role does religion play in the novel? Is there a difference between spirituality and religion? Between faith and blind faith?

10. Towner has a special bond with the dogs of Yellow Dog Island—do you agree that people and animals can relate to each other in extraordinary ways?

11. How do the excerpts from The Lace Reader's Guide and Towner's journal function in the novel? Does the written word carry more truth than the spoken? Did you use the clues in the Guide to help you understand the rest of the book?

12. How much does family history influence who a person becomes? Do you believe that certain traits or talents are genetic and can be inherited?

13. Is it possible that twins share a unique bond? How does being a twin affect Towner?

14. Can geography influence personality? For instance, May lives on an island, does this say something about her?

15. If you could learn to read lace and see things about your future, would you?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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Amazon.com Review
Amazon Best of the Month, August 2008: Brunonia Barry dreamt she saw a prophecy in a piece of lace, a vision so potent she spun it into a novel. The Lace Reader retains the strange magic of a vivid dream, though Barry's portrayal of modern-day Salem, Massachusetts--with its fascinating cast of eccentrics--is reportedly spot-on. Some of its stranger residents include generations of Whitney women, with a gift for seeing the future in the lace they make. Towner Whitney, back to Salem from self-imposed exile on the West Coast, has plans for recuperation that evaporate with her great-aunt Eva's mysterious drowning. Fighting fear from a traumatic adolescence she can barely remember, Towner digs in for answers. But questions compound with the disappearance of a young woman under the thrall of a local fire-and-brimstone preacher, whose history of violence against Whitney women makes the situation personal for Towner. Her role in cop John Rafferty's investigation sparks a tentative romance. And as they scramble to avert disaster, the past that had slipped through the gaps in Towner's memory explodes into the present with a violence that capsizes her concept of truth. Readers will look back at the story in a new light, picking out the clues in this complex, lovely piece of work. --Mari Malcolm 

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In Barry's captivating debut, Towner Whitney, a dazed young woman descended from a long line of mind readers and fortune tellers, has survived numerous traumas and returned to her hometown of Salem, Mass., to recover. Any tranquility in her life is short-lived when her beloved great-aunt Eva drowns under circumstances suggesting foul play. Towner's suspicions are taken with a grain of salt given her history of hallucinatory visions and self-harm. The mystery enmeshes local cop John Rafferty, who had left the pressures of big city police work for a quieter life in Salem and now finds himself falling for the enigmatic Towner as he mourns Eva and delves into the history of the eccentric Whitney clan. Barry excels at capturing the feel of smalltown life, and balances action with close looks at the characters' inner worlds. Her pacing and use of different perspectives show tremendous skill and will keep readers captivated all the way through. 

From The Washington Post

Reviewed by Ron Charles

Brunonia Barry's first novel is a compendium of women's issues stitched into a murder mystery in modern-day Salem, Mass. Originally self-published, The Lace Reader later became the subject of a multi-million-dollar bidding war among New York publishers. Now it's being re-released as the first installment of a planned trilogy with a printing of 200,000 copies and all the marketing tie-in gimmicks of a new deodorant, including a sweepstakes, a "pitch kit" with a walking tour map of Salem, and something the publisher ominously describes as an "early widget disseminated online in a viral consumer campaign."

Beneath all this hype is a moderately entertaining story of three generations in a setting rich with Wiccan wisdom and deadly misogyny. One of the pleasures that runs through The Lace Reader is Barry's witty depiction of Salem. If you haven't been there, it's hard to imagine how completely the town's beauty is upstaged by the crassness of businesses that celebrate and profit from the murder of accused witches in the late 17th century. Barry has a kinder take on her hometown than I do, but she captures the way it remains suspended between past and present, tragedy and kitsch.

The narrator, an endearing woman with a self-deprecating sense of humor, introduces herself as Towner Whitney. Keep her first instruction in mind throughout: "Never believe me," she says. "I lie all the time. I am a crazy woman." I won't spoil this slow, complicated plot except to say that it's heavily back-loaded with revelations that change everything.

Her family, the Whitneys, come from old New England stock. The men made their fortunes in shipping and shoes and then faded away. But the women remain, and they "have taken quirky to a new level of achievement." Just off the coast, Towner's notorious mother maintains a shelter for abused women on a tiny, inaccessible island inhabited by wild dogs. Living without electricity or running water, she and her young women grow flax for their lace, which attracts female customers across the country.

Meanwhile, Towner's Great-Aunt Eva is an old-school Transcendentalist who owns a ladies' tearoom and conducts etiquette classes for wealthy Boston children. "But what Eva will be remembered for," Towner tells us, "is her uncanny ability to read lace. People come from all over the world to be read by Eva, and she can tell your past, present, and future pretty accurately just by holding the lace in front of you and squinting her eyes." This clairvoyant practice, which serves as the heart of the novel, is entirely Barry's invention, but it's so evocative and ingenious that I'm sure lace-reading charlatans are already setting up shop somewhere.

The story opens as Towner is recovering from a hysterectomy in California and receives word that her beloved Great-Aunt Eva has disappeared while swimming in the Salem harbor. No other calamity could draw Towner back home, which she fled years earlier when she was so mentally unbalanced that she had to be hospitalized. But she screws up her courage and flies back, hoping to discover her aunt's whereabouts. What she finds instead is Eva's friendly ghost, her mother just as quarrelsome as ever and a scary cult leader named Cal, who rules over a violent band of anti-female followers called, of course, Calvinists.

Was Towner's aunt a victim of foul play? Can Towner reconcile with her strange mother? Why is Cal so hell-bent on driving Towner out of Salem again?

From the threads of these mysteries, Barry spins a tale of magic, sexual abuse and family reconciliation. But this book isn't so much lacework as a crazy quilt of patched plot lines and literary styles: Episodes of romantic comedy suddenly give way to gothic excess or white-knuckle suspense, only to fade into long stretches of rumination, a weird amalgamation of The Friday Night Knitting Club and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And through it all, its feminist themes sound 1970s fresh: "They came to get you because you were a woman alone in the world," Barry writes, "or because you were different, because your hair was red, or because you had no children of your own and no husband to protect you. Or maybe even because you owned property that one of them wanted." (For a more sophisticated and chilling novel of misogynist repression, read Maggie O'Farrell's recent The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.)

Much of the first 100 pages seems fuzzy as Barry sets up Towner's story while obfuscating and disguising details -- the better to shock us at the end. It's difficult to get a fix on the family relationships among these characters because, as Towner warns, her memory has been scrambled by shock therapy. You can look for clues in the epigraphs that begin each chapter -- pithy quotations from The Lace Reader's Guide, written by Great-Aunt Eva as an instruction manual for other fabric psychics: "No two Readers will ever see the same images in the lace," she advises. "What is seen is determined entirely by perspective." If you're the kind of person who copies such sayings on index cards and sticks them on your refrigerator, you'll love these little ornaments, but if you're the kind of person who mocks those people, you may want to peer into the lace and see yourself reading a different novel.

The best part of the book comes halfway through when we begin reading a journal that Towner wrote back in 1981 "as some kind of therapy" after the mysterious and traumatic events that sent her running from home. It makes for a gripping section, full of dark melodrama: wind-swept cliffs, a moonlit suicide, a violent demon stalking young girls. I'm sorry it takes so long to reach this part, and I was sorrier to see it end, but it generates enough heat to propel the novel toward its revelatory finale, complete with a mob wielding torches.

Having untangled so many false leads and sewn up the great mystery at the heart of Towner's trauma (it's a doozy), Barry would seem to have left herself little material for the next two installments, but I wonder if those future volumes, unburdened of all this exposition, won't actually be more effective. She's created a marvelously bizarre cast of characters (living and dead) in a uniquely colorful town, and there are enough riveting sections here to illustrate what she can do when she lets loose, grabs her broom and flies.

Copyright 2008, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. 

From Bookmarks Magazine
Given the considerable hype surrounding The Lace Reader, reviewers’ expectations may have been unreasonably high. However, most of them seemed quite satisfied by the book; they praised not only its page-turner plot but also the Whitney family’s compendium of quirkiness and the vivid descriptions of the town they inhabit. A few critics were annoyed at the thickness of Barry’s plot, as it jumps between past and present, real and unreal. Others were less than impressed by the much-vaunted surprise ending. However, as the Washington Post suggested, this volume may simply be sorting out the necessary exposition for an even more intriguing sequel or two.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC 

From Booklist
When her great-aunt dies, Towner Whitney returns to Salem, Massachusetts, to deal with ghosts, real and imagined, historical and current. With the first sentence, Towner announces herself as an unreliable narrator, and just how unreliable she is remains a mystery through most of the novel. Towner is mourning the death of her beloved twin sister, recovering from surgery, and recovering from shock treatments administered to help her cope with her depression. She belongs to a family of “lace readers” and is a reluctant seer who also has the ability to read other people’s thoughts. Towner longs to leave Salem, but circumstances seem determined to keep her there until both she and the reader can unravel the mystery of her past. Fans of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island (2003), Chris Bohjalian’s The Double Bind (2007), and other modern pop-psych mysteries will not be disappointed. --Marta Segal Block 

Review
"Barry excels at capturing the feel of smalltown life, and balances action with close looks at the characters’ inner worlds. Her pacing and use of different perspectives show tremendous skill and will keep readers captivated all the way through." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Evocative, layered, smart, and astonishing, THE LACE READER is a fever dream of a novel that will haunt me for a long time to come. The Salem, Massachusetts that the Whitney women inhabit is a wild, dark place, and I loved every moment that I spent there." -- Joshilyn Jackson, author of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

"Lovely and captivating...The Lace Reader showcases Barry’s understanding of human nature. A splendid debut novel." -- Kristin Hannah, author of Firefly Lane

"Will keep readers captivated all the way through." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"With THE LACE READER, Brunonia Barry plunges us through the looking glass and beyond to a creepy and fascinating world. Prepare to meet strange, brave, bruised, electrically alive women there. Prepare to be riveted by their story and to live under its spell long after you’ve reached its astonishing end." -- Marisa de los Santos, author of Love Walked In and Belong to Me 

Review
"Barry's modern-day story of Towner Whitney, who has the psychic gift to read the future in lace patterns, is complex but darker in subject matter.... The novel's gripping and shocking conclusion is a testament to Barry's creativity." (USA Today )

"The Lace Reader casts an enthralling spell...As The Lace Reader unspools, we are drawn into a whirling vortex of deceit. Barry untangles these confusing strands of mystery with an artful precision." (Minneapolis Star Tribune )

"With THE LACE READER, Brunonia Barry plunges us through the looking glass and beyond to a creepy and fascinating world. Prepare to meet strange, brave, bruised, electrically alive women there. Prepare to be riveted by their story and to live under its spell long after you've reached its astonishing end." (Marisa de los Santos, author of Love Walked In and Belong to Me )

"Barry excels at capturing the feel of smalltown life, and balances action with close looks at the characters' inner worlds. Her pacing and use of different perspectives show tremendous skill and will keep readers captivated all the way through." (Publishers Weekly, starred review )

"The Lace Reader is a page-turner, and the ending is almost as shocking as the film The Sixth Sense." (Salem Gazette )

"What makes Brunonia Barry's compulsively readable debut even more interesting is the spice added by fillips both psychic and supernatural." (Denver Post )

"A 'romance' in the Nathaniel Hawthorne sense of the word a dark tale of sin and guilt that blends the mundane and the fantastic, with a glimmer of redemptive hope at its core that all the Gothic trappings cannot obscure." (Tulsa World )

"Lovely and captivating...The Lace Reader showcases Barry's understanding of human nature. A splendid debut novel." (Kristin Hannah, author of Firefly Lane )

"Barry's depictions of her characters' altered states of consciousness are beautifully rendered. And "The Lace Reader" establishes Brunonia Barry as a force..." (The Olympian )

"A gorgeously written literary novel that's a doozy of a thriller, capped with a jaw-dropping denouement that will leave even the most careful reader gasping." (Chicago Tribune )

"Barry has written a meditative, lyric novel that in its discursive storytelling style full of digressions and expository sections on interesting facts will appeal to people who enjoy savoring a book one section at a time." (Raleigh News & Observer )

"Finely rendered moments make this a novel to savor-a story as textured as it is imaginative... a story that readers will find as lovely as a swatch of handmade lace." (Rocky Mountain News )

"Surprise endings are tough to pull off--too often they aren't a surprise to anyone but the main character. To Barry's credit, she genuinely got me." (Christian Science Monitor )

"Barry does a fantastic job of sketching out her characters. The Whitney women, one and all, are intriguingly real." (San Antonio Express-News )

"A spine-tingler set in Salem...[with] an irresistible pull...The Lace Reader is tailor-made for a boisterous night at the book club." (People (People Pick) )

"An ambitious debut. Unusual and otherworldly, this is a blizzard of a story which manages to pull together its historical, supernatural and psychiatric elements. A survivor's tale of redemption." (Kirkus Reviews )

"Evocative, layered, smart, and astonishing, THE LACE READER is a fever dream of a novel that will haunt me for a long time to come. The Salem, Massachusetts that the Whitney women inhabit is a wild, dark place, and I loved every moment that I spent there." (Joshilyn Jackson, author of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming )

"The Lace Reader unravels a magical, yet tragic family's tale...Barry has cleverly and delightfully set us up. With one fell swoop, she cuts the last thread, and the characters she has so carefully created unravel to reveal secrets we had not even begun to guess." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )

"Barry's novel is that rare thing-a literary page-turner worthy for it's story and for its art." (Tom Jenks, editor of Narrative magazine )

"The Lace Reader challenges the very notion of reality. A compelling, fast-action page turner. A terrific read!" (Diane Stern, CBS Radio, Boston )

"Brunonia Barry has pulled off a major feat with her debut, The Lace Reader: It's a gorgeously written literary novel that's also a doozy of a thriller, capped with a jaw-dropping denouement that will leave even the most careful reader gasping." (Dallas Morning News )

"What is real in The Lace Reader? What is not? To her credit Ms. Barry makes this story blithe and creepy in equal measure.... And there is much suspense invested in where all the lacunas in Towner's impressions will lead her...There are clues planted everywhere." (New York Times )

"[For] fans of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island, Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind." (Booklist )

"Barry weaves a suspenseful tale of witchcraft and dark mystery.Barry's depictions of time and place are marvelously descriptive." (Roxanne Price, Elle )

"Past and present mysteries merge in a fast-moving narrative that builds through a numerous small dramas to a theatrical conclusion." (Katherine Turman, Elle )

"Gripping.a marvelously bizarre cast of characters (living and dead) in a uniquely colorful town." (Washington Post Book World )

"Suspenseful and literary catnip-for-book-clubs...while it's surprisingly gritty for having "lace" in the title, we're calling this now as the beach read of '08." (New York magazine )

"[A] richly imagined saga of passion, suspense, and magic." (Time magazine )

"An engrossing modern-day twist on the classic Gothic novel..the story both astonishes and satisfies. In short, The Lace Reader is great entertainment." (Tampa Tribune ) 

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Brunonia Barry lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with her husband and their beloved golden retriever. She is at work on her second novel.


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