“The Lace Reader must stare at the piece of lace until the pattern blurs and the face of the Seeker disappears completely behind the veil. When the eyes begin to fill with tears and the patience is long exhausted, there will appear a glimpse of something not quite seen.
In this moment an image will begin to form . . . in the space between what is real and what is only imagined.”
– The Lace Reader’s Guide
So begins the story of The Lace Reader by Brumonia Barry. In the early 1800’s colonial women made Ipswich Lace, or bobbin lace, or bone lace. The lace was made on a bolster pillow, resembling a muff. The ladies would then use thick parchment to pin a design into the paper, creating a pricking method that could be used over again. The lace was held in place by the pins.
Here are a couple examples:
The main difference between Ipswich Lace and all other hand-made lace is the bobbins. Colonial women couldn’t afford the heavier, decorative bobbins, so they used beach reeds, bamboo, or sometimes bones. You can learn more about the art of lace making at Brumonia Barry’s website, lacereader.com.
What was most striking to me about Barry’s book is how well she knew everything. It was of no surprise to me while researching her biography, that she grew up near Salem. She used Children’s Island, a place she attended summer camp, as the setting for her Yellow Dog Island. She references the Peabody Essex Museum, a place I have visited on my trip to Salem. She combined several houses, including her grandmother’s and her own, as the house Eva Whitney lives in. And she brings to life the town’s battle to overcome its stigma of ‘Witch City’.
Barry did a video tour and interview in Salem, and in it she said “sometimes you have to go back in order to go forward.” Moving back to Salem is what prompted her to write The Lace Reader, which became a New York Times Bestselling debut novel.
She didn’t say she used any of her family history for this fiction piece, but I get the sense that these characters are very near and dear to her heart.
Watch Brumonia Barry’s Interview in Salem!
The story of The Lace Reader begins with an unreliable narrator named Towner Whitney, the niece of Eva Whitney. Towner’s story begins when she must go back home after her aunt’s mysterious death. A family of mind readers and fortune tellers, the Whitney women are all a little crazy, just ask the townspeople. Both poignant and beautiful, ugly and honest, The Lace Reader will haunt you.
Watch The Lace Reader Book Trailer!
Salem is such a rich city to visit. It’s history alone attracts crowds, but it is also a beautiful seacoast town. It’s kitschy in some places, there are an endless amount of ghost tours available and shops to have your future told. You can buy crystals and costumes right next door to each other. But it is home to some fabulous archives in the Peabody Essex Museum, and holds the rank for many firsts due its start as a shipping town. First elephant and first brick house to name a few.
Brumonia Barry has always been involved with the written word in some way or another. She studied literature and creative writing at Green Mountain College in Vermont. She also lived a year in Dublin, Ireland, auditing Trinity College’s classes on James Joyce’s Ulysses.
She lived in the midwest for awhile as a promotional campaign worker for Chicago’s Second City, Ivanhoe, and Studebaker theaters. That love took her to studying screenwriting at NYU. After landing an agent, she up and moved to California and worked with Robert McKee. A decade later, she and her husband moved back to Massachusetts, where together they founded a company that creates award-winning word/visual/logic puzzles.
You know, sometimes an agent will ask “Why are YOU the person that should write this story?” After spending the last few hours diving into Barry’s website, blog, and Salem history, I’d say she’s the perfect person to write this story.
Everyone’s heard of the Salem Witch Trials. What aspects of this time in history interest you most? Have you ever been to Salem? Ever had your fortune told? Have you read The Lace Reader? What did YOU think?!