The lace writer
Author delves into madness and family
dynamics in debut novel
By Stephanie E. Ponder
BRUNONIA BARRY readily admits that her That’s little surprise, as Barry has been
debut novel, The Lace Reader, is a difficult working on her storytelling skills since the age
book to describe—at least not without giving of 6, when she made up fairy tales. When she
too much away. It is safe to say that the novel was 10, her father bought her a typewriter
features three generations of Whitney women that she used to type up plays to perform for
who share the gift of lace reading— the neighborhood. She adds that
that is, the ability to see images she’s long known that her middle
when a piece of Ipswich lace is held name, Brunonia, would make a
in front of a person’s face. great nom de plume—rather than
Representing the youngest gen- her given name, Sandra.
eration, and serving as narrator, is The author studied creative
Towner Whitney, who tells readers writing at Green Mountain College
she lies “all the time” and that she in Vermont and at the University
is “a crazy woman.” She has been of New Hampshire, and work took
summoned from California to her her from New York City to Chicago,
hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, where she ran promotional cam-after her great-aunt goes missing. Brunonia Barry paigns for several local theaters.
MAR THA EVERSON
“I wanted to do the hero’s jour- She moved to Los Angeles in 1979,
ney from a woman’s perspective, à la Joseph where she met her husband and worked on
Campbell,” Barry tells The Connection. “I won- several screenplays. In 1995 the couple moved
dered, ‘What would that be like?’” Barry ulti- back to the East Coast, living in Marblehead,
mately found the process to be a collaboration Massachusetts, before moving to Salem.
among the characters when, in the book’s While in the process of renovating their
final version, she decided to shift the story’s home in Salem, Barry had a dream in which
point of view from that of the missing great- she looked through a piece of lace and saw
aunt to Towner. a field of horses. “It would be a good dream
Although she invented lace reading for for most people, but I’m deathly allergic to
the novel, Barry says she’s sure she’ll hear horses, so it was a nightmare,” says Barry.
from an actual lace reader, and encourages The next day a contractor showed up
the curious to try it as an intuitive exercise. to tear out a wall and commented on how
Her description of the practice is so convinc- he hated those horsehair-plaster walls. The
ing that someone from the Ipswich Museum wall stayed intact, and the idea for her story
in Ipswich, Massachusetts, which had helped was born.
her with research for the novel, called her When The Connection met up with the
to admit they’d never heard of anyone read- author in late May at Book Expo America in
ing lace. Los Angeles, Barry emphasized that the
I feel confident Pennie Clark
in saying that Ianniciello
if you read Costco Book Buyer
and like this
month’s pick, Brunonia Barry’s The
Lace Reader, you will be so eager to
discuss it with someone—anyone—
that you might start asking random
members at your local warehouse if
they’ve read it yet.
I TRY TO NOT
make too many
I wasn’t prepared to be bowled
over by this novel, but it’s weeks later
and I’m still processing the plot twists
and characters’ actions. Barry’s writing
is detailed and vivid, and the characters are so real you’ll lament that you
can’t call them up or pop by for a
visit—after being left feeling that
you’ve always known them.
Barry’s The Lace Reader is available at most Costco warehouses and
gıveaway No purchase is necessary. Open to
legal residents of the U.S. (except
Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older
COSTCO HAS 50 signed copies at the time of entry and who are cur-
of Brunonia Barry’s The Lace rent Costco members. One entry per
Reader to give away. To enter, household. Entries must be received
print your name, membership or postmarked by September 1,
number, address and daytime 2008. Winners will be randomly selected and
phone number on a postcard or letter notified by mail on or before October 1, 2008.
The value of the prize is $24.95. Void where
and send it to: Brunonia Barry, The prohibited. Winners are responsible for all
Costco Connection, P.O. Box 34088, applicable federal, state and local taxes. Odds
Seattle, WA 98124-1088. Or send an of winning depend on the number of eligible
email@example.com, with entries received. Employees of Costco or
“Brunonia Barry” in the subject line. HarperCollins and their families are not eligible.
Send your feedback on this month’s book to:
novel has taken on a life of its own.
Barry says it took about seven years to
finish The Lace Reader. It lingered in a drawer
while she wrote for the young-adult Beacon
Street Girls series. Although proud of her
work on the series, Barry reached a point
where she knew she had to finish her novel.
From the beginning, Barry says, local
bookstore owners helped with the success of
the book. Shop owners led book groups
whose members read the unbound manuscript, suggested edits and identified the
places that made them stop reading.
Barry decided to self-publish the book,
printing 2,000 copies in September 2007.
After receiving a starred review in Publisher’s
Weekly along with feedback that the story
would make a great film, rights for the novel
went to auction. In October HarperCollins
snapped it up, and the original copies were
pulled from the shelves of local bookstores.
“It’s kind of had a life of its own, this little
story,” says Barry of her novel.
In addition to writing her second novel,
which is also set in her beloved Salem, Barry
is working with a friend on the screenplay for
The Lace Reader. Now that she’s had a foot in
both worlds, Barry knows that screenwriting
isn’t for her.
Says Barry, “I want to stay a novelist now
that I’ve found my niche.” C