“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?!
Hello Everyone and welcome to the first post of Jess Witkins’ Wicked Blog! All month long get your fix for the hauntings and paranormal stories you love. Here’s the line-up: Mondays will be All Things Wicked (book reviews, movies, Halloween Parties, costumes, etc.), Wednesdays will be Ghost Stories, read at your own risk, and don’t turn off the lights, and Fridays will continue to alternate between Guilty Pleasures – featuring my favorite things about fall, and Life List Club Guest Posts – helping you achieve the best YOU!
To start off today I have a WICKED review for you about Gregory Maguire‘s witchy tale, Wicked. Everyone knows the story of Dorothy and her dog, Toto. She landed in Oz, killed the Wicked Witch of the East, obtained her magic ruby red slippers and set off on a journey that would forever change her life. But what of the other witch? The Wicked Witch of the West. No one knows her story, not yet.
Wicked chronicles the coming of age of Elphaba Thropp – our Wicked Witch. Born green as grass with razor-edge teeth to a holier than thou father and a trollop of a mother, Elphie is a creature of her circumstances. She was shut out for her color, and disliked for her independence, nonetheless she showed grave responsibility for her family, which included a younger sister, Nessarose, who was born with no arms, and a brother, Shell.
Said to hiss like a dragon and piss on the floor gleefully, she was a terror in her toddler years. When college came around and found her attending Shiz University, a whole new world was opened up to Elphaba. For starters, how would you like to have Galinda Goodie-Too-Shoes for a roommate? That’s right Galinda.
Things get witchier and wickeder when Elphaba uncovers information that the Great and Powerful Oz has plans of genocide for the Animals. You see, in Oz there are both Animals and animals. The Animals have learned the ability to speak, study, raise young ones, teach, work, and act rather humanely.
Maguire has cast a spell with his prequel story to The Wizard of Oz. Readers learn more parts to the original story, such as when did the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West first meet. And why the Tin Man despises her so. All your favorite characters return, from Munchkins to Flying Monkeys, and there are even more, tik tok things and painted soldiers of the tall grasses. Make no mistake, Maguire’s tale is more than a yellow brick walk through your childhood’s favorite story. The book, Wicked, is a dark tale. It’s full of intrigue, affairs, murders, espionage, deceit, hallucinations, and of course, magic.
Gregory Maguire has written several books enlightening us on otherwise adult versions of classic fairytales. You can check out the other titles at his website. His inspiration for writing this story came about after reading newspaper headlines in London at the start of the Gulf War. The ideas began to form around a story of the nature of evil, and who’s more wicked than the Wicked Witch of the West?
Many of you have probably seen the broadway musical version of Wicked which starred Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda. I will warn you the book is, as I said, very dark and for mature audiences. When the book was adapted to the stage, that was the first thing needing to be addressed. The plot was subdued and made appropriate for larger audiences. From what I’ve seen in his author interviews, Maguire seems alright with the changes, after all, didn’t he take the same liberties from the story of L. Frank Baum?
Are you curious about the real story of the Wicked Witch of the West? Who’s the most evil character you can think of? What made them wicked?
Tune in again wednesday for a chillingly true ghost story! Happy October!
I’m having such fun with this book club I joined. Our book for June was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.
Connie, a graduate student trying to survive her oral exams, inherits (of sorts) a dusty, dirty old house that belonged to her grandmother. She moves to the house in the summer to clean it up and sell it, but what Connie doesn’t know is that this house will unlock a secret in history dating all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials.
The book is a fascinating read, imagined by the author through her own dissertation work at Boston University. Every day she would walk her dog on the trails between Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, the cities the book takes place in. Howe states the characters in her book are not autobiographical, but they are well developed nonetheless, and she herself is descended from two Salem Witch historical figures: Elizabeth Proctor, who survived, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not. Spanning the Witch Trial days and the decades that followed in conjunction with present day, she webs together a cunning woman of the 1600’s with a 1990’s stressed out student!
Last summer, I vacationed in Boston, MA, and took a day trip to Salem with my boyfriend. If any of you have upcoming vacations that way, plan to stay overnight! All the good graveyard and witch tours happen at night! As it was, we weren’t in on that loop, so we had to catch our train back to Boston, but we did spend a full day in Salem. Salem is a beautiful, seaport town with a mix of past and present in its streets. The locals you’ll meet are just as diverse covering the full spectrum of love/hate for the tourists that flock to its city, especially at Halloween. The city offers such tourist and historical attractions like the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Pirate Museum. Plus, almost all its shops offer psychic readings, tarot readings, palm readings, and a vast array of magical potions and herbs if it interests you.
We toured the Salem Witch Museum. The main room is set up like a theater, and you sit around the edges with its “stages” encircling you. The lights go up on various scenes to reveal still models in period dress, each depicting a moment during the Salem Witch Trials as the audio narrates. The role of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials is not widely known, but she was a servant in Reverend Parris’ house. A slave from Barbados, Tituba would entertain the children with magic tricks and scary stories. Her name was the first name cried out from the “afflicted” girls. After that, many more women were accused of the craft. The most shameful accusation was that of Rebecca Nurse, a respected, God-fearing, elder member of the community. It is suspected her plea of guilty came more-so out of fear and misunderstanding than anything else. Historians say she was questioned twice at trial, but she was old and hard of hearing, causing her to nod in reply than speak up. She was one of the 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials.
The hangings weren’t the only punishments given during during this time of suspicion and fear. A man named Giles Corey was actually pressed to death, with logs and boulders stacked upon him as a torture method to make him name additional suspicious townspeople. His last words are reported to have been, “More weight.”
In addition to the 20 deaths following the trials, many of the accused “witches” spent months in prison awaiting a suitable judge to arrive to port. And even those that weren’t hanged suffered a life in prison. At the time, if you were imprisoned, it was up to your family to pay for your imprisonment and upkeep. If you could not pay, which many of the lower class families could not, you rotted in jail for a lifetime to pay off your debt.
Many of the leading figures of the Salem Witch Trials make an appearance in Howe’s book, giving it a rich historical setting, and new perspective on its haunting past. The book is full of several mother-daughter relationships, providing great discussion at book clubs, if you’re looking for a new read. And since the main topic is uncovering Deliverance’s physick book, also called a spell book, receipt book, Book of Shadows, you can count on a little magic sneaking its way in.
As for Howe’s writing style, it was said by several book club members that the beginning is a little slow. I agree, at times the description of Connie’s actions or internal thoughts dragged on, but this is absolutely a book to stick with, unanimously liked by each member, especially the ending! It brought up a lot of interesting conversation about character development, gender then and now, how our perception of the world is based on the world we grow up in, and of course, witches! Do you believe in witchcraft? How has the term witch changed over time?
What do you think? Do you believe in magic, or is it all a bunch of hocus pocus?
Also, what’s a great next read I should tell my book club about?