Sisters Natalie and Alice Kessler were close, until adolescence wrenched them apart. Natalie is headstrong, manipulative—and beautiful; Alice is a dreamer who loves books and birds. During their family’s summer holiday at the lake, Alice falls under the thrall of a struggling young painter, Thomas Bayber, in whom she finds a kindred spirit. Natalie, however, remains strangely unmoved, sitting for a family portrait with surprising indifference. But by the end of the summer, three lives are shattered.
Decades later, Bayber, now a reclusive, world-renowned artist, unveils a never-before-seen work, Kessler Sisters—a provocative painting depicting the young Thomas, Natalie, and Alice. Bayber asks Dennis Finch, an art history professor, and Stephen Jameson, an eccentric young art authenticator, to sell the painting for him. That task becomes more complicated when the artist requires that they first locate Natalie and Alice, who seem to have vanished. And Finch finds himself wondering why Thomas is suddenly so intent on resurrecting the past.
In The Gravity of Birds histories and memories refuse to stay buried; in the end only the excavation of the past will enable its survivors to love again.
I thought The Gravity of Birds was interesting and was quite strong at the beginning in presenting the two storylines: that of the Kessler sisters and the arrival of Thomas Bayber in their lives, and the contemporary story with an elderly Thomas seeking out the sisters. It left me wondering what what happened to the Kessler sisters, what was really going on between them as the rift was palpable even at the start, etc. The book was also interesting on touching on themes of art, the drive to create, and art criticism, all of which were pretty strong early in the novel. I loved that the main theme of family and the notion of how strong the bonds of blood are when faced with illness and personal tragedy, disappointment and resentment.
The story of Alice and Natalie and Thomas had me completely enthralled, as well as Dennis and Stephen’s attempts to find out what happened back then. Speaking of which, the Dennis and Stephen dynamic was quite interesting to read at first especially as their road trip started off rather hilariously. But I felt like their respective character stories weren’t as strong as they could be (though Dennis’ personal backstory was much more interesting and fleshed out), probably just because the main story was very intriguing to digress to other characters that weave in and out of the main story. I would recommend The Gravity of Birds to readers of historical fiction.