The Gravity of Birds

A Novel

The Gravity of Birds

In this compelling debut novel, an art authenticator and an art historian are employed by a famous, reclusive painter to sell a never-before-seen portrait, leading them to discover devastating secrets two sisters have kept from each other, and from the artist who determined the course of their lives.

How do you find someone who wants to be lost?

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.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451689785 | 
  • August 2013
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Tracy Guzeman on her debut novel, THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS

In this entrancing debut novel, two sisters and a reclusive artist share devastating secrets that threaten to unravel their lives and destroy them.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Gravity of Birds includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Tracy Guzeman. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Alice Kessler and her older sister, Natalie, first met the brilliant young painter Thomas Bayber towards the end of summer in 1963 while vacationing with their parents in upstate New York. Both sisters were drawn to Bayber, and their encounters with him that summer changed their lives and their relationship with each other forever.
Forty-four years later, Bayber is a renowned yet dissolute artist nearing the end of his life. He summons Dennis Finch, an art history professor intimate with Bayber’s work, and Stephen Jameson, a young art authenticator hoping to regain respectability in his field, to show them a previously unknown painting: Kessler Sisters, a disturbing work that depicts the young Bayber, Alice, and Natalie. Bayber’s desire to have the painting sold ignites a chain of events requiring Finch and Jameson to find Alice and Natalie. But the sisters have disappeared without a trace.
The story weaves together the past and the present, revealing the siste see more

About the Author

Tracy Guzeman
Photograph by Chris Hardy

Tracy Guzeman

Tracy Guzeman lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Vestal Review, and Glimmer Train Stories. The Gravity of Birds is her first novel.