Saturday, February 01, 2014

What we're reading: Debut author

I continue my run of happening upon books that incorporate art and artists into their stories, and also contain birds as a theme! In The Gravity of Birds, by Tracy Guzeman, which I plucked on impulse from the new books shelf last week, we get a brief scene-setting look at Thomas Bayber when he is young and just breaking upon the art scene as a talented painter. He spends the summer at a lakeside cabin, and his neighbors are two girls, Natalie and Alice Kessler, ages 17 and 14. By the end of the summer, the three have made indelible impressions upon one another that will impact the rest of their lives.

We then flash to the present, in which Bayber, a recluse who hasn't painted in 20 years, calls his biographer (an art historian) and a young authenticator to his side to reveal that he owns a painting never seen or catalogued. He wants the two to authenticate and sell this painting, but there's a catch: There are two side panels that go with it, supposedly in the possession of two of the subjects of the painting, which is entitled "Kessler Sisters." He won't sell the painting unless it is complete, and sends the two out to find the panels--or is it really to find the women?

This is one of those books that I wanted to turn around and read again as soon as I finished it. There can be a few reasons for doing that:

1. You liked it so much that you don't want to be done;

2. It was so complex that when you got to the end you said, Hey, wait a minute…and went back to see if you completely understood how to get to where you "got";

3. You wanted to wallow more in the writing or the characters or the imagery or the story.

Parts of all three of those played into my desire to start over. The characters were complex. It took a long time to get to that in the book, so once I did, I wanted to spend more time understanding them than the author had given me. The imagery was compelling--I so wanted the artists in this book to be real, so that once I was done I could go look them up on the internet and see their paintings and sculptures so as to add the visual component. The story took place on a triple timeline in multiple locales, so I felt the need to go back and check to see exactly when certain things happened and who knew what at the time they did.

This is a fairly simple story, and simply written, yet the complexity of human emotions and betrayals involved made it intricate and nuanced. It is a lovely first effort, and I will definitely keep track of the author to see what she writes next. And yes, I will probably reread this very soon!

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