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Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
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A-The Lace ReaderBrunonia Barry set her debut novel in her native Massachusetts. The first edition of the book was published privately by the author, but William Morrow eventually bought the rights for $2 million, drawing considerable attention from the press.

The Story: The Whitney women of present-day Salem, Massachusetts, don’t ride broomsticks, but they do have a supernatural knack: seeing the future in patterns of lace. When Towner Whitney abandoned Salem for sunny California, she also left the lace reading to the rest of the family. But when her beloved Great-Aunt Eva (the most eccentric in a family of eccentrics) is reported missing, Towner finds herself drawn back into the intrigues of her hometown and her hidden talents. Soon, Eva’s disappearance is but one of her worries as she confronts a fanatical cult and the mysteries of Salem’s past. And as readers gradually realize, Towner’s narrative, like the visions revealed in the lace, may not be as coherent as it seems.
William Morrow. 400 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061624764

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Novelist 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. … Thankfully, Ms. Barry’s talent seems worth the hype." Joy Tipping

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In The Lace Reader, Barry has written one of those lovely novels that is easy to dive into and that lingers in your thoughts. The haunting questions about what exactly happened, how, when and why, will keep your brain happily digesting this book long after the covers are closed." Tammar Stein

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The technique of reading lace requires a blurring of the line between reality and imagination. Such fuzziness becomes a characteristic of the story, and some readers may find themselves groping uncomfortably through an unreliable narrator’s wild imaginings." Traci J. Macnamara

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"The combination of do-it-yourself grit and a page-turning plot should make her popular with book clubs and knitting circles alike. That plot—which incorporates women’s issues, a dead twin, sailing, a cult, spiritualism, insanity, reincarnation, underground tunnels, and a witch hunt involving an actual mob carrying actual torches—is crammed fuller than the carry-on bag of a Delta Airlines passenger." Yvonne Zipp

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[Two] unfortunate things happen: The narrative gives way to a long, long piece of so-called creative writing that Towner composed during the time she was hospitalized. … Then, when it finally becomes clear how directly Ms. Barry wants to link Salem’s past to her present-day story, The Lace Reader heaves all remnants of subtlety overboard." Janet Maslin

San Antonio Exp-News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As a reader, my dream was for this book to be everything the hype suggested. Instead, I’m left admiring the language, which has all the delicate prettiness of a piece of lacework—and wishing there was something more substantial lurking beneath." Jennifer Roolf Laster

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Beneath all this hype is a moderately entertaining story of three generations in a setting rich with Wiccan wisdom and deadly misogyny. … 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." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

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.