Every family has secrets. But it is not often that the secret is the defining element of the family's entire existence. In THE PUZZLE BARK TREE by Stephanie Gertler the secret has shaped who the senior Hammonds are and how they raised their two daughters, the eldest in particular.
Plagued by dreams of drowning from an early age, daughter Grace Hammond Barnett is married to Adam, a serious, aloof heart surgeon who has provided her with a beautifully appointed apartment in New York City, yearly extravagant ski trips to Colorado, and all the other frills afforded by wealth, but he can't give her the emotional support she needs. He scoffs at her sensing "in her bones" that something --- anything --- is wrong. Likewise, her reclusive parents were emotionally detached during her youth and relied on their housekeeper, Jemma, to raise Grace and her younger sister Melanie. The Hammond girls lived in a house devoid of laughter, music, and love, except for that which was shared by Jemma. As a child Grace recounted her dream of drowning to her cold mother, and instead of receiving comfort she was dismissed. Grace spends her entire life afraid of water, keeping her dreams a secret and searching for answers to why she feels such distance in both her family home and her marriage.
When her parents die suddenly, early in the story, the first secret of her parents' life is revealed in the reading of their will: they have bequeathed to Grace an island on Diamond Lake in Sabbath Landing, an island neither sister even knew existed. Impulsively, Grace travels alone to Sabbath Landing for New Year's Eve, where she uncovers a world in which she at last feels at ease, even surrounded by water. Townspeople welcome her into their fold and make her feel right at home. One local in particular, Luke Keegan, holds a natural, deep attraction for her.
What unfolds in the next few days --- and then months --- following the discovery of Canterbury Island is a recapturing of Grace's life, beautifully written by Gertler. Luke and Grace have a strong, soulful bond forged many years ago on that mystery island. With her marriage falling apart, Grace turns to an old friend to lend her the support she has lacked her entire life and to finally explain to her what she has felt "in her bones" all along. Emotional without ever being overwrought or sappy, THE PUZZLE BARK TREE is a series of powerful and evocative revelations and repercussions not to be missed. In THE PUZZLE BARK TREE, secrets are for telling.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 23, 2011
The Puzzle Bark Tree