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November 17th, 2008

_The Lace Reader_, Brunonia Barry

This novel begins with a self-identified first person unreliable narrator who has two names right out the gate: Sophya (birth name), and Towner (adopted name, seems like maybe around puberty). Our Narrator has a fairly small but convoluted family, the women members of which may have precognitive abilities associated with staring at lace. Then again, they may just be reading body language -- the novel and the narrator seem a little uncertain (which is to say, the narrator is certain about the precognitive ability, but she's certain about a lot of things which turn out not to be true).

You know me and the spoilers, if you are a regular reader. If you got here via google, you might want to quit reading now.

It turns out Our Narrator has a third identity: Lindley, aka Lindsey, her dead-before-birth twin sister. So while you're reading the book trying to figure out who the hell is Our Narrator's father (because May's husband and therefore presumably Beezer's dad and presumably Our Narrator's dad is mentioned only very briefly in passing a couple times in the course of the novel), and maybe a bit curious about just _why_ May would give away one of her twin daughters to her half-sister Emma -- and when you're done reading the book, you're _still_ not going to know who May's husband was (or if he ever existed) or whether Beezer is really May's kid, or if he's really Our Narrator's younger brother.

I found that frustrating.

There were other frustrating things about the book (like, was May really at the car that night on the island? Did Sophya conflate the night Emma's jaw was broken with the night Cal confronted her and Jack in the car? If that _did_ all happen the same night, what was the timeline? Was Sophya really in her bedroom? Did Jack have the gun pointed at Cal? Or was it May? And why was I the only person at book group who noticed this problem? Or cared?). One of the things that is _not_ frustrating about this book is the accuracy of the disaster that permanently surrounds adult survivors of abuse: Jack comes from a family of alcoholics; Rafferty is a recovering alcoholic; Rafferty is taken in by Eva; Eva is an incredibly sinister force (correctly called Eva Braun by Lindley) perceived by most readers and the family as a whole as a refuge and comfort etc., May is chronically trying to rescue people entirely by herself -- the more she fails to do so the more she distances herself from the larger community of the world which she desperately needs both for her own sanity and to help those she is attempting to save.

I don't have a lot of experience with psychotic breaks, at least not on the scale that the plot revolves around in _The Lace Reader_. However, the Disaster that is Sophya/Towner/Lindley's disintegrated and dissociated identity does resonate.

The writing is kinda bad in a lot of places, but this could be readily chalked up to the crappitude of the Narrator's voice -- that is, many of the failings of this book in terms of writing, structure, etc. could be explained in terms of the universe created.

I deeply hate shit like that.

I gave this a 3/5 at the book group. In truth, I think it's a well-structured book that does a good job of depicting something that's hard to convey if you haven't experienced it yourself or been around other people who've gone through similar. Unfortunately, I think the author may have overreached slightly, in that a lot of the details would require multiple readings for an average reader to pick up on if, indeed, they ever figured it out at all. Also, I don't really like reading about this kind of crap.

I told the group tonight that I have a second rule to go with my rule number one for book group selections (which is, no birth scenes): no psychotic breaks.

Is that too much to ask? No birth scenes and no psychotic breaks? I don't think it is.

ETA: Great discussion of _The Lace Reader_ here:

http://bookchatcentral.yuku.com/topic/1345/t/THE-LACE-READER-Sept-08-SPOILERS.html?page=1

Most standalone reviews are so concerned about spoilers that they can't actually talk about the themes of the book in any useful way. It turns out quite a few people were bugged by May's husband/Beezer's dad. However, for the most part people seemed to miss the alcoholics-and-abuse-victims-find-each-other stuff. Interestingly, R. suggested that Sophya/Towner/Lindley may in fact never have had shock therapy -- she may have invented it as cover for her dissociative disorder.

I really need to avoid reading this kind of stuff. I've known way too many people who have dissociative disorder. It is just not cool to be around.