Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book 40: The Lace Reader

This is one of those novels that's been languishing in my stack of unread books for long enough that I can't remember when I got it.  Probably while I was living in the Richmond, VA area, but I won't make any guarantees.  For a book that's been sitting around for anywhere from three to four years, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it - especially since I wasn't even sold on the beginning and it took me a while to get into it.
Towner Whitney left her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts several years ago for California, and hasn't returned.  She's recovering from a surgery when she receives a package from her beloved great-aunt Eva, and soon after there is a call that she's missing.  This leads to Towner's return to the town and the family she has been avoiding for a long time.  Towner warns us from the very beginning that she lies and should be viewed as an unreliable narrator.
It takes a while for everything to fall into place, but once the tale gets going, Barry ties things together in intriguing ways.  Towner has a dead twin sister and a strained relationship with her mother, who is a recluse on an island.  Her mom supports victims of domestic violence, who make lace on the island and sell it through many of local stores to the tourists.  Towner's family has a tradition as lace readers, using lace to see visions and make predictions though she has been avoiding this gift since she had a vision as a teen that turned bad.
I really enjoyed the ways Barry described Salem, the mix of tourists and locals.  Another prominent character is Calvin, a fundamentalist preacher or cult leader, who has a history with the Whitney family.  While at first the novel offers little explanation, putting the reader in the middle of a cast of characters whose relationships aren't always obvious, Barry slowly reveals the past, why Towner has avoided her past for so long and slowly shows why it is so important for Towner to face her demons.  I also liked Rafferty, the cop that is first part of the investigation of Eva's disappearance.  Since he wasn't a local, he doesn't know all of Towner's history, and provides a different view of the situation.
I just realized that one of my recent reviews is of Splintered which had a promising beginning and then lost momentum.  It was nice to discover the opposite of that in this novel as I became more invested the more I read, discovering more about the characters and their pasts.  I also became so wrapped up in Towner's narration that I forgot about her early warning about her lies, thinking of her as the normal one in a town of eccentrics.

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