Monday, December 14, 2009

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry - 416 pgs

Book CoverTowner Whitney has just journeyed home to Salem Massachusetts to recuperate from illness and deal with a strange tragedy that has befallen her aunt. Home is a place that Towner never thought she would be revisiting after the catastrophic traumas of her early life, and she is none too pleased to have to return to the place where so many horrible memories lay buried and forgotten. Towner comes from a long line of lace readers: women who can tell others' fortunes based upon the natural patterns found in lace, a talent which Towner knows she shares but refuses to acknowledge. Upon returning to the small town, she discovers that the life and people she left behind haven't really changed all that much and she begins to become enmeshed in all the old eccentricities that she thought she left behind. But odd and frightening things begin to play out almost as soon as she enters the town, beginning with the disappearance of two local women, one of whom is her aunt. Foul play is suspected in both disappearances and one very dangerous and charismatic man is at the center of it all. But Towner has much more to focus on than the two women, for there are huge and painful gaps in her memory and being back home threatens to rip open all the old wounds that she had thought were healed. Now, with the help of John Rafferty, a man she knows almost nothing about, Towner will attempt to uncover the truth about the missing women and the shocking truth about herself. Filled with mysticism and darkness, The Lace Reader takes readers on a wild ride of deception, suspense and mystery.

Reading this book was a strange experience for me. Though I can't truthfully say that I enjoyed it, I was still very much glued to the page. I think that the story was just too messy for me, with a lot of jarring plot elements thrown together and so much going on that the book felt really crowded. It was funny because early on in my reading, my husband asked what the book was about. When I began to explain, he said "Wow, all that? You've only read a hundred pages!" which I think sums up my reaction to the book pretty well. I thought that the writing and feel of the story were extremely well done and that the author had a gift for making the reader really get tangled into the story and want to follow it to it's natural conclusion, but I didn't feel like this was a story that I loved. Overall the pacing was very tight and there were some suspenseful moments throughout the book that had me wondering what was coming next, and I really liked the inclusion of the lace reading. But I thought there was just too much of everything, and after awhile I began to feel a bit overwhelmed.

I also didn't have strong feelings for the protagonist. I thought Towner was a bit unlikable and cold and it was a mystery to me why it was that I should care so much about her. For most of the book she remains aloof and never really invests herself in any of the other characters or their situations. Without spoiling the plot, I guess part of her distance has much to do with the revelation at the end of the book, but she was really hard for me to like and care about because her emotions and actions always seemed so dysfunctional. I was really surprised that Rafferty got roped into helping her because for the most part, it didn't seem to me that she had a lot to offer, either as a friend or confidante. Mostly I felt that she was closed off and unreachable, which in my opinion doesn't make for all that interesting of a character. I want to see emotion and fire in a character. I want to see someone who is invested in life and has a strong grip on her emotions, not someone who doesn't seem like she cares at all about anything.

I did, however, feel like the author did a fabulous job with the setting of the book. She imbued a lot of detail into the Salem setting and I felt that it was both arresting to read and easy to imagine. There were times when I felt I was standing in the town looking around at the places she described, due to the attention to detail that the scenery and setting was given. As a matter of fact, I can't remember a time when I have felt so drawn to the feeling of place in a book, and whether she was describing the island that Towner's mother inhabited, with it's craggy shorelines and freezing waters, or the overgrown and lush garden of her aunt, I think Barry did a magnificent job with giving her characters a place in which to live and work the life force of their story.

Though I felt that the plot was overcrowded, I want to stress that I don't think the plot lacks verisimilitude. There were a lot of sections that had me mesmerized and I felt that there were many great moments in this book. So great in fact that I think what would have made the book even better would have been to spread the action out more and not try to throw in everything but the kitchen sink into this one book. I would have liked to have seen some of the action plotted a bit more slowly and with more care given to Towner and her personal story, instead of the hyper-plotted reality that I got. I mean, there was just too much happening, and I think that had the book been a bit more subdued and slow, it would have made a greater impact in terms of character and the relevancy of the story.

I have so far avoided talking about the end of this book for two reasons: First is that I am not sure how I felt about the ending and second is that I don't want to give too much away. First off, I will have to say that I am not sure if I found the ending to be to gimmicky and predictable or if I thought that it was the perfect ending that enabled the story to lock all its elements into place. I think I feel a little of both. I've no doubt that the ending was meant to be a shocker and the kind of ending that people just exclaim and wow over, but when I look back I don't know if all of the events leading up to the ending quite ring true for me. It felt a bit like a tease to me, the kind of thing that is meant to be the pièce de résistance of the book, but I don't know if I was completely buying it. To say anymore about this would indeed be spoiling the book for those who have not read it, so I will have to leave it at that for now.

Though I am on the fence regarding this book, I think I would still recommend it to other readers who relish dramatic and involving stories. I am certain that for the majority of readers this would be a great book to while away the hours with, and when I am forced to admit it, I think I might have to conclude that I might be a little to picky for this story to really work for me in all the ways that the author wants it to. This is definitely a darker read, so those readers who are looking for something light might want to avoid this book, but I think the book would work on many levels for those who love a good haunting read.

11 comments:

Steph said...

I've seen this one kicking about on several blogs in the past few months, and while I'm intrigued, there always seems to be something about the book that I can't pinpoint that holds me back from saying "This is definitely something I want to read!" Your review was probably the first mixed review I have read about this one, but I actually found that really helpful, since I tend to find that really effusive reviews result in me ultimately being disappointed with whichever book is being discussed because it just can't live up to my expectations. It's the rare book that really is without flaws, so I really appreciated your balanced discussion here!

Sandy Nawrot said...

This book was all the rage awhile back, and I went out and bought the book for RIP. I didn't end up reading it because I totally overextended myself on that challenge (I think I read almost double the required number) so it is still sitting there on my shelf. I've heard there is an unreliable narrator, which I love (ala The Little Stranger). Then I was browsing through my Entertainment Weekly from the end of 2008 (love those best of lists!) and realized they named this one of the worst books of the year! What to do! I suppose I'll get there someday!

Aarti said...

Strangely, my sister has read this book and I have not. She read it for the book club she is a member of, but she was also a little ambivalent about it and now that I see your plot summary, I can see why. Doesn't seem her sort of book at all. And not sure it's my style, either.

Trisha said...

This one is staring at me right now from my TBR shelf. Maybe I'll make it my airplane read so that I'm reasonably forced to go through it.

bermudaonion said...

Reviews for this book seem to be all over the place. I'm not sure what to think - I don't like books that have too much going on, since they tend to confuse me. Great review.

Dar said...

I enjoyed this book back when I read it but I don't remember feeling any strong connection to Towner either. I did love the setting of Salem and I'd definitely read more by her.

Diane said...

I like reading books about the witch trials etc. I read this one last year (around Halloween I think) and liked it. (Your review was terrific...I love reading others review, but especially about books that I have also read. Thanks

Serena said...

I really enjoyed this book, but your right there is a lot going on in it. It may not be for everyone and some might get overwhelmed.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I really enjoyed this one. I did love the atmosphere of the story, but can see being overwhelmed by all the elements of the story. It didn't bother me, but I did see a lot of people mention the choppiness of the book.

Marie said...

Yeah, I think the ending should be a secret! :) It's quite a twist. i liked the book but I agree it had its flaws. She did a great job bringing Salem to life but I agree there were a lot of plots! A good read, and a great review!

Elizabeth said...

I tried to read this book back when it was super popular, and just couldn't get into it. It's one of the "hype" books that really didn't live up to it for me.

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