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Reading the Future

LaceThe 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.

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