Towner Whitney may be the main character of The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, but her family and the historic city of Salem, MA, also have starring roles in this debut novel. The Whitney family has a long tradition of fortune-telling and can predict the future from the patterns found in lace. Towner resisted her heritage and after suffering a tragedy in her teen years, fled to California. Years later Towner returns to her hometown of Salem, MA, to discover what happened to her missing great-aunt Eva. Soon after Towner arrives, Eva is discovered, drowned in the sea.
Towner struggles with the memories of her youth as well as the whispers of the townsfolk. She is notorious for the breakdown she suffered in her late teens in which she claimed wild dogs killed Cal Boynton. This is particularly noteworthy because Cal is discovered adrift at sea in the Pacific Ocean during the same time Towner claims he was being savaged by dogs. In addition, Towner is haunted (not literally) by the ghost of her dead twin sister, Lindley/Lindsey.
The rest of the novel follows the town’s attempts to discover the truth behind the drowning and Turner’s own attempts to reconcile herself to her family’s legacy. What really happened to her aunt? What happened all those years ago to Towner’s twin sister? What does the future hold for Towner? You’ll have to read the lace to find out!
I thought that the first half of the book was boring. I became more interested in the story when the main character opened up about her history (through the journal excerpt) rather than hinting at the past trauma. Otherwise, the book limped along until the last hundred pages. The ending was good, and built suspense well. However, the ending also felt a little rushed. Nonetheless, the twist at the end of the story made me reread the story again to look for the clues scattered throughout the beginning.
This was a first novel by Barry. Her new book, The Map of True Places, was released on May 4. Let’s hope it is a more even and successful offering.