The Puzzle Bark Tree

The Puzzle Bark Tree

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by Stephanie Gertler

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When Grace Hammond Barnett's parents die suddenly, she is bequeathed a lakeside house she never knew existed. Leaving her city life behind, she travels to the house for refuge-and meets a man who helps her unravel a devastating secret buried in her past...


When Grace Hammond Barnett's parents die suddenly, she is bequeathed a lakeside house she never knew existed. Leaving her city life behind, she travels to the house for refuge-and meets a man who helps her unravel a devastating secret buried in her past...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
Gertler's follow-up to her well-received first novel, Jimmy's Girl, treads a too familiar trail: a middle-aged woman whose marriage has gone flat finds love with a childhood friend. Where Jimmy's Girl succeeded in summoning the hot passions of first love, this time neither the mystery of a childhood tragedy nor the love story catch fire. Grace Hammond Barnett, 44, is stunned to receive an early morning phone call from her sister, Melanie, informing her that their parents have committed suicide. Grace's doctor husband, Adam, is unsympathetic and too busy to accompany her to her parents' home in upstate New York. Grace and Melanie comfort each other, and admit to themselves that they were really raised by the family housekeeper; their parents barely noticed them or tolerated their existence. At the reading of the will, a mystery unfolds: Grace has been left a house in Sabbath Landing, N.Y., a lakeside cabin no one knew existed. As tensions between Grace and Adam mount, they separate and Grace goes to check out the cabin. There she finds handsome Luke Keegan, who reveals a Hammond family secret to Grace. Gertler tries too hard to build suspense in Grace's search for the truth behind her parents' emotionally inaccessible behavior. Luke is so sensitive and romantic, Adam so insensitive and self-absorbed, that neither man appears real. Mature women with an itch to find young passion again are not likely to be satisfied by this strained effort. Agent, Marcy Posner. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.32(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Puzzle Bark Tree

By Stephanie Gertler


Copyright © 2002 Stephanie Gertler.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 052594639X


One night, before Grace went to sleep, she asked her. Sit down on my bed, Grace said. Sit down just this once. I have the same kind of dream all the time, Mom. Melanie and I are on a ship and the ship is tossing in the night. A hole is gaping through the hull and icy water is pouring in and coming up to our knees and then rushing past our waists. Faster and faster. And I scream for someone to help us. You're there but you won't save us and you swim away. I need to ask you, Mom, if Melanie and I were on a ship, and the ship was tossing in the night and there was a hole gaping through the hull and water was pouring in so that it came up to our knees faster and faster, couldn't you save us? Wouldn't you save us both?

Her mother looked at Grace as she lay in her bed, the covers pulled up to her chin. Her mother's eyes became wide. She looked almost startled, blinking in what appeared to be disbelief. Looking into her mother's eyes frightened Grace more than the dream of the ship sinking in the darkness. When her mother finally spoke, her voice was raised and trembling. What a foolish question, her mother said. Stupid question. That is a cruel and selfish question, Grace Hammond. Why would you think about such things? How could you ask such a thing? Her mother moaned. She inhaled a breath so rasping and deep Grace wasn't sure what would happen when she let it go. Her mother clasped her hands, then released them, wrung them and twisted them in a way that frightened Grace and made her wonder if her mother would tear them off her wrists.

Grace wailed that she didn't mean anything by her question.

I was only wondering, Grace apologized, pleading for mercy.

Her mother left her seat at the edge of Grace's bed and flipped off the bathroom light. Please, please, leave it on and leave the door cracked open, Grace begged. But her mother just walked away, as though she were an apparition in the darkness.

There were so many nights, when Grace was a child, that she dreamed of ships and boats rocking to and fro on metal-gray waves. She was probably around six years old the first time she had the dream. It wasn't until she was ten when Grace found the courage to confess the dream to her mother. The dream recurred over and over again after that. A boat, sometimes a ship, rocking violently on steely dun water that splashed over the deck and soaked Grace's clothes so they clung to her like onionskin. And, in all the dreams, Grace and Melanie would call out for help, their cries trapped somewhere deep inside their throats, down to their chests, though their mouths were poised to cry.

Grace's daughter, Kate, asked the same sort of thing when she was a little girl. Her question, however, did not come from a dream. It was simply one of those questions that children ask, like why is the sky blue and is there really a man on the moon and why don't we fall off the edge of the earth as it spins? Kate called Grace back to her bed one night after Grace had tucked her in and read Anne of Green Gables for the umpteenth time.

If you and Daddy and I were on a desert island and you could only save one, whom would you rescue? Kate asked, her eyes imploring.

And Grace answered, ignoring her own sense of something arcane as Kate posed her question. "I would save us all," Grace said matter-of-factly. "I would save us all."

"But you can only save one," Kate said. "That's the rule."

"I would break the rule." Grace smiled, lifting her chin triumphantly. She enveloped her daughter so tightly that Kate laughed and said she was squeezing her too hard.

They fell asleep together that night and, in the morning, just like so many mornings, Grace wondered why it never occurred to her own mother to simply gather Grace up in her arms and say she would save them both.

Excerpted from The Puzzle Bark Tree by Stephanie Gertler. Copyright © 2002 by Stephanie Gertler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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The Puzzle Bark Tree 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of my top favorite. I love how this wonderful character currines through life. She has to face the daring activites of everyday life with an unhappy marrage & seems to end up cheerful in the end. i loved how everything and everyone was connected in some way in this great enchanting read that I would recomend to anyone willing to face Graces past and future throughout this journey called life.
harstan More than 1 year ago
As children, sisters Grace and Melanie never felt close to their parents, who for whatever reason never blanketed the siblings with nurturing love. Now as an adult with her own child, Grace feels her marriage mirrors that of her parents though she showers love on her cherished daughter Kate. Suffering from a recurring nightmare of drowning, Grace believes she has no one to turn to for help especially her parents and her husband.

When her parents suddenly die in a tragedy, Grace inherits their Canterbury Island home in New York. Surprising everyone, Grace decides to spend New Year¿s at the house rather than her annual time with family members. There Grace looks into her family history guided by local fisherman Luke Keegan, who will help her with her past and perhaps attain a loving future if she heeds Melanie¿s advice.

THE PUZZLE BARK TREE is an engaging character study that ties the shrouded past with an unhappy present in a finding one¿s true self story line. The tale turns overly emotional at times, but the audience will devour all that angst as Grace seeks contentment learning a life lesson of ¿to thine own self be true¿. Fans of insightful contemporary fiction will want to join Grace on her journey to Nirvana that Stephanie Gertler portrays so eloquently.

Harriet Klausner