Book Review: 'The Gravity of Birds' Is A Mystery Of Time And Art

Oct 7, 2013

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman begins in 1963 with the Kessler Family spending their annual vacation at a lake cabin rental in Maine.

During this trip, they meet Thomas Bayber, a promising artist using his family's neighboring cabin as a permanent residence and studio. Alice and Natalie Kessler are 14 and 17 years old, and despite the age difference, they each spend a lot of time with the 28-year-old Thomas. During one visit, Thomas tells Alice that he is an old soul. In fact, he explains to Alice, "I was born with a head full of someone else's failed dreams and a heart full of someone else's memories."

In the 45 years since that summer at the lake, Thomas Bayber has become a world renowned artist, although he hasn't picked up a paint brush for the last 20 of those years. So it's a surprise when he calls upon his old friend Dennis Finch to sell a never-before-seen piece titled, "The Kessler Sisters."

An art history professor, Dennis has catalogued every work by Thomas. Now he's tasked with the job of authenticating and selling the piece, and Thomas insists that he works with Stephen Jameson, an authenticator at an auction house who has no personal filter-- an unlikely candidate for the job. The two must locate the sisters, who seem to have vanished sometime in the late ‘60s.

The Gravity of Birds is told through alternating chapters between Dennis and Stephen's discoveries about the Kessler sisters and the Kesslers’ own revelations. Guzeman's descriptions of the art are outshined by her ability to transport the reader to time and place. And you don’t have to be an art lover to appreciate the novel. Equal parts mystery, tragedy, art history and love story, it will please many sensibilities.