“The Lace Reader” by Brunonia Barry is tale of twins and magic, set in the unsettling town of Salem, Massachusetts, and told by a self-confessed unreliable narrator. The book, which holds a lot of promise in the beginning, sadly wanders off course. The story is recounted in part by the first person narrative of Towner Whitney, a twin and daughter in Salem’s infamous Whitney family, known for its eccentric and magical women. Towner has returned to Salem after having been gone a long time after an alluded to crisis which temporarily landed her in a mental hospital. Upon the mysterious death of her beloved aunt, a woman who could read the future in lace, she reluctantly returns to the house on the edge of the sea where her past still haunts her. The story slowly unravels of Towner’s relationship with her twin sister, who took her own life one summer. It is a story of a love triangle, a story of spouse abuse, a story of incest, a story of mental illness, parental love, religious intolerance… That is the problem. Too many stories. Barry had a great idea and tells a good story, but she has made it unnecessarily complex and entwined too much. On the plus side of the ledger, the atmosphere of Salem and the island the Whitney family inhabits is beautifully drawn, capturing a New England sailing culture, steeped in the old trader culture and dark history of the witch trials. I would go so far as to say the town itself is one of the strongest characters in the story. Barry also has a good voice. She uses quick, sharp sentences and keeps the pace moving, even though at times I found the situations unrealistic. Another potential problem is Barry’s handling of the multiple narrators and the shifting of time all over about a twenty year period. Overall, a solid book, and was a great read for this Halloween time of year.
Tag Archives: magic
I picked up the classic horror story “Something Wicked This Way Comes” from the master story teller Ray Bradbury expecting to be chilled by this well-known tale. Instead, I was…well…bored. Don’t get me wrong, the plot of the story, which follows two 12-year-old boys’ encounter with a demonic troop of carnival people, is pretty frightening. I especially am creeped out by anything to do with circuses, carnivals, or the like, and this one had its particular dark characters: Mr Dark, the Illustrated Man, who is tattooed with the likenesses of the souls he has snatched, the Blind Dust Witch who can with a mere suggestion stop your heart, Mr. Electro who is dead one moment and alive the next. When this dark band of soulless misfits arrive in the small Mid-Western town, the boys discover their dark connections, but are convinced no one will believe what they have witnessed. And what they have witnessed is the basis of many subsequent horror tales, for the message is clear that one should be careful what one wishes, for it might come true. The weakness of the story now is the language. The boys’ exclamations and dialogue is so stilted and unrealistic as to be laughable. Bradbury stretches his thesaurus to its limit in reaching for every word to describe a storm, or the witch, or the fear of aging, or whatever topic is at hand to the point that I found myself flipping pages and skimming paragraphs just to get on with it. His lexicon is almost Gogolian, in that he seems to use words in unusual or incorrect ways, but after a few chapters it is just tedious. This is a classic which for this reader has not stood the test of time. Perhaps we should put the book on the magical carousel and spin in backwards?