Adventures in Reading

Fiction: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

“My name is Towner Whitney. No, that’s not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time.”

Neither the cover of the recent reissue of Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader interests me nor does the synopsis of reading the future in scraps of lace. So it’s a good thing I bothered to open the book and read the first paragraph, as quoted above, which intrigued me enough to take the book home. It has been a long time since I have read a novel that immediately and brazenly establishes an untrustworthy narrator. A narrator that has warned the reader to never believe her. What is the reader expected to do with the second paragraph?

Immediately I drew numerous correlations between The Lace Reader and Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton: east coast setting, daughter escaping her past, crazy mothers, supernatural elements, new love, reproductive issues, and periodic “history lessons” throughout the book. The Lace Reader was a fast paced and enjoyable read narrating Towner’s return to Salem, Massachusetts after her grandmother has passed away. Her mother and aunt live a reclusive life on a neighboring island where they help women affected by domestic violence. When a religious cult of “Calvinists” gets involved it becomes a matter for the police.

I feel as if I’m giving nothing away by saying this, the reader is warned from the first paragraph, that I figured out “the lie” of the story and put a Post-it note on page 282 to mark it. I think I may have figured it out before Barry intended, but I still enjoyed the remainder of the book. Overall it was a good book and understandable why the chain bookstore Borders have tackled it as a book to push. However, there were some nuances throughout the book that created a sense of uneveness. Barry provides various well-written and described moments throughout the book that don’t necessarily go anywhere. However, reading these parts along with the remainder of the book can be a somewhat disjointed experience.

The reader has been warned that Towner Whitney is “crazy” and it’s possible that some of these dreamlike sequences evoke certain disembodied psychological qualities, but that could also be me reading more into the book. [1] As a whole though, The Lace Reader was a refreshing read, I’m glad to see it selling so well, and it was a great book to end the summer/begin the fall with.

[1] Granted, this is one of my favorite things to do.

Conclusion: Returned to work and picked up for 50¢ at the library.

And an additional review from Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker.


What a great first line! It’s difficult to know what to do with an unreliable narrator–but it also takes a talented writer to uphold that type of “device”. Sounds like a great read!

Comment by Trish

Trish: I always have a bit of a thrill when author’s use a less predictable narrator. No point in getting too comfy, right? It’s definitely a fun read and right now seems the perfect season for it too.

Comment by bookchronicle

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