Towner Whitney comes from a long line of “quirky” or “oddball” family members. Her female relatives are also gifted with the abilities to read others’ minds in some fashion, sometimes see the future, and to read lace — a gift much like reading fortunes through tarot cards or other media. However, Towner says, she has tried to avoid all of those gifts since fleeing her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, when her twin sister died as a teenager.
Towner’s real story — and she makes clear at the outset that her real name is Sophya and that she also tends to lie a lot on top of her craziness — is what unfolds in The Lace Reader. The reader of the novel hears events of the present and past from Towner’s point of view as well as from the viewpoints of others, and then must piece together what truly happened to her, her sister and other family members.
The facts and the memories take place in an equally quirky setting, Salem, which has long been famous for witch trials. Now the town swarms with witches who live and practice there as well as tourists who watch re-enactments of witch hunts and buy totems and potions as souvenirs. All of the strange elements of the setting combine with the strange and uncertain elements of Towner Whitney’s life to obscure the facts. But the facts do eventually swim to the surface, like the images the Whitney women can see emerging from lace. The story is gripping, beguiling and a bit haunting in all-too-human ways.
Rated: High primarily for language. There are about 15 uses of strong language and about the same number of instances of mild and moderate language. Physical and sexual abuse also make several appearances in the novel, although there are few details.