The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
Book Review by Sara Demrow Dent
A books allure, for me, usually begins with the cover. I know this goes against everything we have been taught but I just can’t help it. I look at the image, whatever it may be – dark or light, beautiful or grotesque and start to fantasize about the pages within. Surely, if my taste in covers is the same at the author’s, we are starting off on the right foot. Luckily this highly subjective practice has worked for me. The Gravity of Birds, by first time novelist Tracy Guzeman, is no exception. The cover is beautifully presented with indigo script balancing on a delicate birdcage. It’s occupant, free and perched protectively above alluding to the sharply woven mystery that lies beneath.
This novel revolves around the complicated relationship between Alice Kessler and her older sister Natalie. Told over a 40 year period, Natalie is dark, secretive and a striking beauty while Alice, three years her junior, is much more introspective and acutely intelligent. An avid reader and passionate about birds and the study of ornithology, Alice shares much of her sister’s beauty but cannot see it. The book begins with a summer vacation by a lake in upstate NY where the teenage Kessler’s meet a charismatic young painter, Thomas Bayber. The black sheep of his wealthy family, he has chosen to cast off much of the demands of his privileged upbringing and focus on his talent as an artist. Alice begins an intense friendship with Bayber that sparks a series of events that both tears the sisters apart and forever links them in time.
The story jumps ahead to a decade when Thomas Bayber has found both fame and critical acclaim for his hauntingly beautiful work. A previously unknown Bayber masterpiece that depicts Thomas, Natalie and Alice titled: The Kessler Sisters comes light. As Dennis Finch, an art historian and life long friend of the artist, begins to authenticate the piece its mysteries unravel and take him on an odyssey to find the missing sisters and uncover the truth about what happened between them so many years ago.
Being a painter myself, I love books that include art and artists and illustrate the complexity of paintings and how we look at them. This book does not disappoint. I could not put it down and wanted to see it through to its dramatic conclusion. The characters are well researched as is the art world my only negative critique is that Thomas’ character may be a bit of the stereotypical, narcissistic male artist – but just a bit. The perfect summer read The Gravity of Birds is a captivating mystery that deals with the power of art, the consequences of prideful mistakes and the gift of forgiveness.
Sara Demrow Dent is a painter and writer who works out of her studio in West Newbury, Massachusetts and Maine. She has been a featured artist at the Newburyport Art Association and her work is represented by the Walsingham Gallery in Newburyport, MA. Sara will be blogging reviews of art and design related books and her next titles include The Goldfinch and Grace: A Memoir Grace Coddington.