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.


The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

“Sometimes, we feel it’s impossible to push into the future without such a weight behind us, without such heaviness to keep us steady, even if its imaginary. And the more frightening the future is, the more complicated it seems to be, the more we steady ourselves with the past.”

Mys Ebrel suggested The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff to me ages ago and though I promptly requested it from my library it took until fairly recently to obtain what seems to be the lone copy floating around the county. The Monsters of Tempelton is an alluring and tantalizing book that sets out with a gargantuan and multi-layered idea that Groff explores most beautifully. While reading it, my co-workers kept remarking that they remembered the cover and asked how it was and I said it was pretty terrific and ten minutes later still found myself stumbling through an attempt at a plot summary.

First, this is a book about James Fenimoore Cooper and inspired by Groff’s hometown of Cooperstown. And like Cooper, Groff realized that the fiction of the book was becoming somewhat overwhelming and changed the names to protect the innocent (as James did himself) and renamed the town and literary character to Templeton. Coming back home to this town is our hero Willie Upton who is a direct descendant of the literary Temple and has lived under this weight her entire life. However, Willie’s returning home after a terrible escapade on an archaeological dig in the Alaskan tundra and seeks out her hometown and mother for comfort and solace. While visiting, Willie finds out her father is not who she thinks he is and spends the book reacquainting herself with her hometown and her family.

Did I also mention from page one a lake monster is pulled out of local Lake Glimmerglass?

With remarkable skill, Groff overlays multiple stories in this genealogical search of fatherhood. Punctuating the main story line are testimonies from Willie’s long dead relatives, pictures of said relatives, and the odd family tree to help the reader stay abreast of Willie’s discoveries. The book explores myth and folklore, discovering long forgotten secrets, and the cost of divulging the truth. The Monsters of Templeton is cleverly woven together and I found myself always anticipating Willie’s next discovery. Groff also has a terrific sense of humor. Definitely an enjoyable read if you’re searching for something to pick up.

Also additional reviews with Just A Reading Fool, Back to Books, Reading Derby, Booking Mama, Literate Housewife Review, and Many A Quaint and Curious Volume.