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The Puzzle Bark Tree: A Novel Hardcover – June 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gertler's follow-up to her well-received first novel, Jimmy's Girl, treads a too familiar trail: a middle-aged woman whose marriage has gone flat finds love with a childhood friend. Where Jimmy's Girl succeeded in summoning the hot passions of first love, this time neither the mystery of a childhood tragedy nor the love story catch fire. Grace Hammond Barnett, 44, is stunned to receive an early morning phone call from her sister, Melanie, informing her that their parents have committed suicide. Grace's doctor husband, Adam, is unsympathetic and too busy to accompany her to her parents' home in upstate New York. Grace and Melanie comfort each other, and admit to themselves that they were really raised by the family housekeeper; their parents barely noticed them or tolerated their existence. At the reading of the will, a mystery unfolds: Grace has been left a house in Sabbath Landing, N.Y., a lakeside cabin no one knew existed. As tensions between Grace and Adam mount, they separate and Grace goes to check out the cabin. There she finds handsome Luke Keegan, who reveals a Hammond family secret to Grace. Gertler tries too hard to build suspense in Grace's search for the truth behind her parents' emotionally inaccessible behavior. Luke is so sensitive and romantic, Adam so insensitive and self-absorbed, that neither man appears real. Mature women with an itch to find young passion again are not likely to be satisfied by this strained effort.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Grace grew up with parents emotionally removed from the world. Despite their stoicism and lack of interest, Grace became a free spirit, a dance teacher for the physically challenged, a wife and a devoted mother. After her parents die in a double suicide, Grace learns they did not bequeath anything to her but a house she never knew existed, in a place she never heard of. Curious, Grace travels to the small rural town of Sabbath Landing, New York. She finds herself eerily drawn to the place even though the water intensifies her recurring nightmare of drowning. She also discovers a side to her parents she never saw growing up and exposes a deeply held family secret. One of the locals, Luke Keegan, knew Grace's family and takes it upon himself to help Grace learn the truth about her parents, the house, and her own part in the tragic events that turned her parents into emotional recluses. Gertler's novel is tentative and sometimes forced, and many of the characters are one dimensional; but it makes a good popular read. Carolyn Kubisz
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; 1st edition (June 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052594639X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525946397
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,399,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C. Penn on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Since childhood, a dream has haunted Grace Hammond Barnett. Only after her parent's suicide does Grace realize that her dream is actually a repressed memory and a key to forgotten past. She and her sister Melanie had always know their parents were different than other parents -- little more than vague shadows that passed through their lives restricting music and laughter with their dark presence. Only the housekeeper Jemma filled the girl's need for fun and frivolity, for hugs and unquestionable love.
The free spirited Grace grows up to marry a man as emotionally barren as her parents. Over the years, her bohemian skirts and long silver earrings cease to suit this highly respected cardiac surgeon. Ironic really, that a man who heals hearts refuses to touch the emotions of his own or another. Even with the death of Grace's parents, Adam refuses to accompany her to the scene when the call comes. But his absence leaves room for extraordinary change when Grace learns of the clues that lead to the answer of her parent's silence and the secrets that will forever redefine her life.
Author Stephanie Gertler displays a dazzling skill for charting the transformations of the heart in THE PUZZLE BARK TREE. Grace's parents become a powerful presence in the novel, ironically through their absences and odd restraint. Gertler skillfully captures Grace's mother's devastated psyche with powerful imagery and gentle understanding, never excusing her withdrawal yet treating it with compassion. Indeed, the women of the novel sparkle with a shimmering passion and presence, though the men are so strongly juxtaposed as to become stereotypes. Nevertheless, Gertler's flowing narrative weaves a mesmerizing tale of sorrow, transformation and healing. Moreover, Gertler's distinctive rich voice speaks with incredible sensitivity and wisdom. A beautifully realized puzzle comprised of the past and the future, of grief and of joy, THE PUZZLE TREE comes highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on June 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As children, sisters Grace and Melanie never felt close to their parents, who for whatever reason never blanketed the siblings with nurturing love. Now as an adult with her own child, Grace feels her marriage mirrors that of her parents though she showers love on her cherished daughter Kate. Suffering from a recurring nightmare of drowning, Grace believes she has no one to turn to for help especially her parents and her husband.

When her parents suddenly die in a tragedy, Grace inherits their Canterbury Island home in New York. Surprising everyone, Grace decides to spend New Year's at the house rather than her annual time with family members. There Grace looks into her family history guided by local fisherman Luke Keegan, who will help her with her past and perhaps attain a loving future if she heeds Melanie's advice.

THE PUZZLE BARK TREE is an engaging character study that ties the shrouded past with an unhappy present in a finding one's true self story line. The tale turns overly emotional at times, but the audience will devour all that angst as Grace seeks contentment learning a life lesson of "to thine own self be true". Fans of insightful contemporary fiction will want to join Grace on her journey to Nirvana that Stephanie Gertler portrays so eloquently.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Janet E Salvage on July 30, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Stephanie Gertler's title "The Puzzle Bark Tree" is symbolism but you'll have to read far into the book to find the metaphor in a tree trunk. However, the first paragraph of her prologue sets up an immediate cut-to-the-chase, a puzzle that demands solution, exactly what we readers want.
Gertler's pacing almost always races. You eagerly await the next chapter until you get to the middle of the book and, alas, the puzzle is solved. It's a letdown. You wonder why half the book remains to be read. You consider quitting, then something you never saw coming plummets, and your nose dives right back inside her book.
This novel is part mystery, psychological suspense and love story, essential ingredients of the proverbial good read. Three deaths are part of the mystery but it's not a whodunit; it's not a 'how'; it's a 'why'.
A married couple with grown children commit suicide on the same night. An enigmatic note, left unfinished, is found. Given the history of these two depressed and detached parents who literally turned over the raising of their two daughters to a live-in housekeeper, their tragic deaths, although not incredible, demands answers. What was the root cause that finally led them to give up? Unraveling one daughter's dreams provides answers.
Since her childhood, Grace Hammond, elder sister of Melanie suffered recurring dreams of drowning. As a married woman, Grace still cannot go near the water. Eventually, she realizes, the keys unlocking buried memories lay in her dreams. Her husband, renowned heart surgeon, demands she see a psychiatrist, but not because he believes it would help her; he's got no patience for such nonsense, he shouts at her. He's very good at repairing strangers' hearts, but excels at breaking his wife's.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amy Leemon VINE VOICE on July 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Melanie and Grace's parents have always been very cold and aloof. When they commit sucide together, Melanie is astounded to find out that she has inherited a house on an island that she never even knew existed. All through her life she has had nightmares about water but never knew the reason.
She decides to find out more about the house and her mysterious parents. Little by little, truths are revealed that they never could even have dreamed about. Why has the house been left exactly as it was for so many years? What made her parents leave the island so suddenly and never return? And why do the people in the town remember her parents so differently than she and her sister do?
Finding the answers to these questions will keep you turning the pages until the fully satisfactory ending.
Another really good summer read.
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