I've had The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry on my shelf for about a year now. Why did it take me so long to read it? I don't know. It might have been the title. It conjured images of old furniture covered in doilies. To me anyway. I'm funny like that. So, I finally picked it up and I'm very glad I did.
Towner Whitney returns home to Salem, Massachusetts from Hollywood where she ran to escape her painful past. She's not back voluntarily. Her beloved great-aunt Eva is missing. Towner feels sure Eva will show up at any moment and can't wait to leave again. When Eva's body is found, it changes everything. Towner is forced to stay in Salem. The past she hoped to escape is right in her face: her agoraphobic mother May, her abusive uncle Cal who blinded his wife and now is the leader of a bizarre cult, and an drunken ex-boyfriend. To complicate matters further, Detective John Rafferty, hurting from Eva's death, has his eye on Towner. Towner is about as lovable as a cactus so he has his work cut out for him.
I don't think my synopsis does the book justice. There is a lot going on here. Towner tells a lot of the story in first person and we go along with what she is saying. However, when seen through the eyes of others like Rafferty we get the sense that not all is as it seems. Towner's journal becomes a big part of the story and you think you know the story but then the point of view sifts once again. It's a neat little trick that Barry does beautifully.
I did have a bit of trouble settling into this book at first. I found some of the dialogue a bit confusing (like I was left out of the in joke) and Towner is a difficult character to warm up to. However, after a few chapters I was pulled into the story and didn't notice any of these small annoyances.
The subject matter in The Lace Reader is quite dark, dealing with abused women and mental illness. Still, it isn't without hope. I was pleased to see that it wasn't all Men=Bad. Rafferty is a nice guy just trying to make things right. He's my favorite character. There is also the backdrop of Salem and it's brutal history. It adds a lot of flavour to the story with the witches and the lace reading. Another location might have made the powers of the Whitney women stand out but instead it just seems perfectly naturally.
I wasn't completely surprised by the ending. I didn't need to read lace to see where it was headed. Barry throws in lots of hints. That's not a bad thing. I quite enjoyed it and thought the whole book was based on a clever idea.
*This is an ARC of the book before it was picked up HarperCollins (Canada). They might have edited it.