Review by: Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay

May 2003

The Puzzle Bark Tree
By Stephanie Gertler
ISBN: 052594639X

Grace Hammond Barnett grew up in an environment devoid of love, affection and tenderness.Her mother was a recluse in ill-health, and both parents were emotionally detached from Grace and her sister, Melanie.The two sisters turned to their housekeeper, Jemma, as a surrogate mother. Being raised in this environment affected Grace in several ways. She finds herself in a marriage that has turned rather cold and loveless, although her college-bound daughter is the light of her life. She also has been plagued since childhood by recurring nightmares of drowning, which have caused her to have a serious phobia of water.Grace is constantly searching for answers and solutions to her inner problems, rehashing and rethinking her childhood and her parents’ behavior and her own marriage.

When her parents both commit suicide two days before Christmas, the news hits Grace hard, but the aftermath affects her even more deeply. Grace is bequeathed a house that neither she nor her sister knew existed. Grace decides to visit there, making the trip without her husband and daughter who go ahead as planned on a ski vacation. Her sister joins her there, and they begin to discover secrets about the past and their parents. A fishing guide she meets and befriends is linked to the family history in a way the sisters could not anticipate. The process of learning the truth of the past sets Grace free to undertake the journey toward knowing and understanding herself.

As in her first novel, Jimmy’s Girl, Gertler shows her talent at portraying multi-faceted, interesting characters. Although some of the plot elements will not surprise anyone, Gertler generally avoids melodrama and cliché to present a rich portrait of a woman working through crisis and making her way in the world.

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