Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Novel blurb via Amazon: In the tradition of The Thirteenth Tale, Brunonia Barry’s bewitching gothic novel, The Lace Reader, is a phenomenon. Called “[a] richly imagined saga of passion, suspense, and magic” by Time Magazine, it is a haunting and remarkable tale told by an unforgettable, if strangely unreliable narrator—a woman from an enigmatic Salem family who can foretell the future in patterns of lace. The Lace Reader was a runaway New York Times bestseller—hitting the top lists in major cities across the country, from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles—and has immediately established debut author Brunonia Barry as a major force in contemporary American fiction.

The Lace Reader was actually given to me by my best friend and if she hadn’t, I don’t know if I would have picked it up on my own. I usually almost always read historical fiction, historical non-fiction, fantasy, or sci-fi. I don’t remember the last time I read something considered “contemporary”, let alone something with a tinge of mystery. Perhaps over ten years? What’s more, this book may be considered “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” (terms I somewhat resent; stories about women are for everyone, aren’t they??). But The Lace Reader is far more smart and sophisticated than some may think.
So other than for the reason of pleasing my friend, why did I decide to give this book a go? Well, the fact that this book had both an air of mysticism and is set in Salem, MA (one of my favorite places in the world) was enough to garner my interest. I’m glad I gave The Lace Reader a chance; the prose was clean, distinctive, and to the point. The female characters (the centerpiece) were complex, strong, and well-rounded. What is odd, but worked well in Barry’s hands, was the fact that the narrator sometimes seemed the most emotionally distant of any character. There’s a reason for that, and if you read to the end, you will discover the unexpected fruit that has sprouted from the seeds Barry has planted. This is a sharp story that I could easily see as a movie or TV mini-series.

Barry has a unique and relatable way of describing everyday things – I appreciate this technique because it is hard to find, believe it or not. Barry makes storytelling seem effortless and smooth, which is quite an accomplishment because we writers know that writing is anything but effortless and smooth! I did a little research on Brunonia Barry, and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that this book was originally self-published. The book found enough traction in the local scene that it was able to get the attention of an agent and subsequently sell to a mainstream publisher. This is the kind of success story self-published writers cling to when things seem dark. And in this way, Brunonia Barry’s feat is inspiring in itself.

Grade: B+

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