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The Gravity of Birds: A Novel Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451689764
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451689761
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Legendary artist Thomas Bayber calls reliable art historian Dennis Fincher and eccentric art authenticator Stephen Jameson to task them with an errand. Although Bayber stopped painting years ago, and his artwork has been extensively documented, he shows them a never-before-seen central panel in a triptych that depicts himself as a young man posed with two sisters, Alice and Natalie Kessler. What he wants Dennis and Stephen to find are the other two panels of the painting, which he gave to the sisters, who seem to have vanished without a trace in 1972. Their quest starts out inauspiciously, since Dennis refuses to fly, and Stephen doesn’t know how to drive, but before long, the two art aficionados become obsessed with finding the missing sisters and the missing panels even as they reveal their own grievous losses. Their narrative is interspersed with the story of the estranged Kessler sisters and their separate relationships with the brilliant if self-absorbed Bayber. The talented Guzeman, incredibly assured in her first novel, slightly overshoots with her busy plot, but her cast of endearing eccentrics and her stellar prose will win her a loyal audience. --Joanne Wilkinson

Review

"If literary fiction is on the verge of extinction . . . Tracy Guzeman's The Gravity of Birds ought to inspire new hope for an endangered species. With its deft interweaving of psychological complexity and riveting narrative momentum, with its gorgeous prose and poetic justice, Guzeman's book is about sibling rivalry, tragedies, and resurrections. And it's irresistibly exquisite." (San Francisco Chronicle)

"The captivating prose of Tracy Guzeman’s first novel instantly pulls you into the lives of the Kessler sisters, Alice and Natalie, and their intertwined love story with Thomas Bayber, an attractive young artist. Forty years later, as Bayber lies dying, he sends two trusted, but disparate, colleagues to find a missing painting that the Kessler sisters possess. Clandestine love affairs, painterly clues and a world of untruths come seamlessly together in this exceptional debut." (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

"In this richly textured novel, two young sisters encounter art and their sensuality under the watchful gaze of a seductive painter. Forty-four years later, when a never-before-seen portrait of them is unveiled, a complex web of jealousy and heartache is exposed." (O, The Oprah Magazine)

"In this riveting debut novel, a famous artist-recluse unveils a 40-year-old painting never shown before, then sends collectors on a scavenger hunt to locate two teenage girls who posed for him, but disappeared decades ago." (Good Housekeeping)

“A compelling debut . . . This book is about details and secrets—and possessing the perceptiveness to notice how details can reveal secrets. . . . Guzeman creates flesh-and-blood characters that readers come to care about.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

"The deep waters of family secrets contribute to the atmosphere of intrigue." (San Jose Mercury News)

"Talented . . . incredibly assured . . . her cast of endearing eccentrics and her stellar prose will win a loyal audience." (Booklist)

“[The Gravity of Birds] exhibits, particularly in characterization and dialogue, glimmers of genius.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A lovely, mesmerizing novel. The Gravity of Birds combines the drama of warring sisters, the mystery of a missing painting, and the sorrow of lost love into a haunting elegy that will, like the artwork it describes, leave you breathless. The paintings and characters that Tracy Guzeman creates will seep into your imagination and take up permanent residence, changing the way you think about art.” (Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County and The Gilly Salt Sisters)

“Lovely! The Gravity of Birds is a warm-hearted, assured, and haunting debut. In prose that is always graceful and often breathtaking, Tracy Guzeman delivers a compelling story of the love of art, and the art of love.” (Meg Waite Clayton, author of the national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters)

"The Gravity of Birds is one of those rare, exquisitely written novels that haunt you long after you've finished the last page. Guzeman writes of both the fragility of the human spirit and its inner strength. The book unfurls like a hidden canvas, soaked with color, emotional longing, and a desire to make sense of what is often too painful to be said without the assistance of art. It is a novel not to be missed." (Alyson Richman, best-selling author of The Lost Wife)

“Tracy Guzeman’s The Gravity of Birds is part mystery, part psychological drama and intriguing love story. This is a stunning debut. It’s a brilliant tale, written in evocative language, and every page is pure seduction. I want to scream from the rooftops: read this book!” (Ellen Sussman author of the New York Times bestseller French Lessons)

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Customer Reviews

It took me a long time to read this book.
Experienced Editor
Not only is Gravity of Birds a fabulously written first novel with depth of character and theme, the author is wonderful in person.
Normajean Hinders
The story is very well written and original in content.
Linda Cole

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Experienced Editor VINE VOICE on July 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It took me a long time to read this book. Even though I was eager to see what would happen next, I found myself lingering over the language, the images, the sudden shifts and surprises. The story involves multiple main characters, each one well developed with his or her own voice and personality. These are not figures who can be labeled as "good guys" and "bad guys." Each one is a combination of good and bad traits, which makes them human, and each one is important to the plot -- although that is not evident at first.

The plot itself is multilayered, with the elements woven into a complex pattern. In a nutshell: in 1963, two teenage sisters are smitten by the same man, a talented artist who is nearly 30. He lives near their summer vacation home and they see him every year until 1971, then lose touch. Decades later, in 2007, the artist -- who is now a famous recluse -- shows a hitherto unknown painting to an art professor and an art appraiser. It's a portrait of himself with the two sisters, allegedly the center panel of a triptych. The artist asks the two men to handle the sale of this painting (which will make them both famous for "finding" it) on condition that they locate the two missing panels. It doesn't take much brainpower to figure out that he doesn't want the paintings ... he wants to find the sisters.

As the professor and the appraiser follow clues across the country (and well-placed flashbacks show us earlier events) we unravel not just the physical mystery of the paintings but the psychological depths of the various characters and the way they affect each other. Several times I thought I'd figured out how the story would end, and each time some new twist gave me more to consider. The conclusion resolves some issues but leaves others open-ended. I'd love to know more about what happened to characters I'd come to care about, but the ending offered possibilities that let me enjoy thinking about the story after I'd finished reading.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Karen on August 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lately I have this strange fixation with birds and bird cages. And they seem to be popular now for knickknacks and jewelry. So, when I saw the cover and title of this book in a weekly email about literary novels from amazon.com I was intrigued. When I read the synopsis for this novel, I wasn't so sure it would be my cup of tea. I'm just not drawn to novels about the intertwined lives of it's characters whose stories are played out in the novel over scores of years. I just don't care about those things anymore. I'm too old and I feel I've figured out, in a general sense, what motivates people. However, I downloaded a sample of the book to my kindle to at least give it a try because I liked the cover and the title. Silly reasons perhaps, I'll admit, but my intuition on picking a book by it's cover art usually serves me well.
I won't give you a synopsis of the book because the one given by the publisher is more than adequate. What I would like to tell you, though, is Tracy is a wonderful writer. There is a sense that she uses her words sparingly while not stinting on an almost lyrical way of writing. Her observations concerning the motivations of her characters are shrewd and she delivers them with the greatest effect. I found the way she delivered her characters stories to be different than most novels I've read lately. But that is my humble opinion. You must decide that for yourself, of course. The story kept me interested from page one until the end. Never did I feel that it slowed, or dragged. And I became totally immersed in it. I found it to be interesting, complex and heartbreaking. I absolutely loved it! I hope Tracy writes again soon because I can't wait to read more of her books. She is an amazing talent. Please give this book a try. If it could interest a jaded person like me, I truly feel that you'll love it too.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Terri J. Rice TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Thomas Bayber first walked on the dock there was a certain knowledge that the world had shifted and nothing would ever be the same. "She'd pushed her memories of him accompanied by her feelings of disappointment and shame to a dark place at the back of her mind."

Natalie and Alice Kessler are sisters of wholly different natures. Natalie is a cunning 17 year old, to Alice's forthright 13 years. Thomas Bayber is an artist come to vacation at his parents' summer cottage on the lake. He makes a name for himself in the art world- only a few of his paintings are in private collections, the rest have been bought by museums.

And then over 40 years later, Bayber makes a revelation- a new never recorded, or seen piece of work- a self portrait on the cottage couch between Natalie and Alice. Bayber contacts a relatively small auction house to authenticate and sell the work.

This excellently told story takes the reader back and forth from the seemingly idyllic summer days at the lake and then back to the present- Alice now mostly incapacitated by rheumatoid arthritis, Bayber an old man laid low by a stroke. And the painting, the mystery of it being hidden for so long and then revealed.

This book is a story of mystery, of thoughtful psychological dissection, of complicated love, and of remorse. One of the best books I've read lately.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on October 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS is the story of two sisters and an artist. Alice and Natalie are sisters from Connecticut and though both are attractive Natalie is considered the beauty while Alice is the "smart one" who is especially interested in ornithology. During the summer of 1963 when the girls are fourteen and sixteen they meet the young painter Thomas Bayber then in his twenties when they are neighbors for the month of August. Sometime after Alice is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and the girls' parents are killed together in an automobile accident. Alice and Thomas reconnect in 1971 in a meeting with lasting consequences. In the early twenty-first century Thomas is living as a recluse and has not painted in twenty years despite earlier fame and success. He decides to sell a previously unknown painting of himself and the girls from that first summer which is missing two parts. Much of the novel is a search for the missing portions of the painting and unraveling the mysteries of the relationship between the sisters and the artist.

Difficult to engage with and confusing at the beginning because of too
many poorly defined characters THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS is a novel with many romance novel conventions though not the perfect happily ever after ending. The author tries to make her book more literary by adding some bird symbolism and the plot about art historians but this is really a mediocre book albeit more difficult to read than most.
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