The Lace Reader

Have any of you BG Buzzers out there read The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry?  At my library, it’s classed as a “mystery,” although I noticed that on the cover, the publisher calls it a “novel.”  I’ve been puzzling over it, for a number of reasons, so I guess in that sense it is a “mystery,” although I’m not sure it’s a satisfying one.

To begin with, the narrator for a large share of the book is beyond unreliable — she’s mentally unbalanced!  She sees dead people, although she doesn’t realize that’s what is happening.   After a while, one asks — is she dreaming or hallucinating?  Some of the story isn’t told from her point of view, but follows a police officer that she’s attracted to.  Turns out he’s a recovering alcoholic, as is her former boyfriend, who keeps popping up at inconvenient times to cause problems.  More unreliable folks.

In addition to switching abruptly from a first-person narrator and a third-person account, the book moves back and forth in time; most of it is set in Salem, Massachusetts (there’s a witchcraft theme), but some scenes take place in California.  All of this adds to the mystery, as one is reading along, and then there’s the issue of character names: the heroine is named Sophya but goes by Towner, and she has a twin sister (raised by her aunt and uncle instead of her mother) called Lyndley, but who we later find out is really named Lyndsey.  On top of this, we have characters named Eva and Emma, as well as Ann, Anya, and Angela.  Are you confused yet?

The primary mystery seems to be the disappearance of Towner’s beloved great-aunt Eva (who may be dead), but there’s also a second disappearance — of a troubled teenager named Angela, who may be having an illicit relationship with Towner’s uncle, a religious fanatic named Cal.  Rafferty, the policeman Towner is dating, is trying to solve the mystery of the two disappearing women, but he doesn’t go about it in the typical manner of an investigator;  he’d rather watch the sun go down while eating chop suey sandwiches.

Also puzzling are the quotes from something called The Lace Reader’s Guide that start off each section of the book as well as many of the 33 individual chapters.  Quotes such as “The Reader must be certain, as she asks the question, that the Seeker is prepared to receive the answer.”   I presume these are presented to provide a certain texture to the story, but although there are “lace readers” in the tale, “lace reading” doesn’t really figure in the development of the plot or the solution to any mystery.

Fellow authors call The Lace Reader “astonishing” and “evocative” in quotes that appear on the back cover, and Publishers Weekly claims the book will “keep readers captivated all the way through.”  Well, I’m not sure I agree.  I did finish the book, but I’m uncertain that all the mysteries were cleared up by the time I turned the last page.  Maybe I need to attend a discussion of the book, to ask all the questions that came to mind as I was reading and find out what other readers thought.

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

2 Comments on "The Lace Reader"

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  1. heykaren2@mac.com' Karen says:

    I did “The Lace Reader” when it came out. I was highly disappointed. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. I actually think I gave it a poor 2 or 3 stars on Goodreads.com
    I totally would NOT recommend it for any book club unless you’re really wanting to stir something up.

    I felt the same way “Swamplandia”. Terribly disappointing and not very well written. I couldn’t imagine how “Swamplandia” got onto any Best of the Year lists.

  2. weebear8@tnt21.com' cailin raine says:

    I totally disagree with the above overview of Brunonia Barry’s wonderful book, “The Lace Reader”. I am wondering about the concentration abilities of people who cannot keep characters straight in their minds, just because their names happen to begin with the same letter?? I found this book to be one of the most enjoyable reads in a very long time, and I would recommend it as a cozy, enchanting, and imaginative book for anyone who might enjoy an amazing escape from the realities of everyday living. It is an ingenious take-off from the very real happenings of the Salem witch trials in the 1600’s, and the plot(s) keep one spellbound and turning the pages with great anticipation for more. In real life, people are anything but perfect. I found the comments above to be rude and arrogant, and I would not care to be friends with anyone making these disparaging remarks. Bravo, Brunonia! Like your name, your book is unique and I cannot wait for another similar adventure!! cailin raine ( poet and author )

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