Cover image for Drifting
Gertler, Stephanie.
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Publication Information:
New York : Dutton, [2003]

Physical Description:
258 pages ; 24 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Readers and reviewers alike fell in love with Jimmy's Girl and The Puzzle Bark Tree . In her new novel, Drifting, Stephanie Gertler once again reveals her gift for exploring the ways in which families experience love and loss.

In the coastal town of Drifting, Connecticut, in a Victorian inn perched at the ocean's edge, Claire lives with her husband, Eli. Although her own children are grown, Claire is still haunted by the absence of her mother, who abandoned her when she was a baby. When Nicholas Pierce and his blind seven-year-old daughter, Kayla, come to stay at the inn, the young child's affinity for Claire begins to resonate within her. Unwittingly, Claire finds herself drawn into a struggle to save Kayla when dark truths begin to emerge about Nicholas. Ultimately, the challenge to save Kayla unleashes Claire's own need to find her missing mother.

Fearlessly plumbing the hidden depths of the heart, Stephanie Gertler has crafted a wise and moving novel that tests the bonds of mothers and daughters and their ability to transcend any obstacle.

Author Notes

Stephanie Gertler is a freelance journalist. She lives with her family in Scarsdale, New York.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

When beautiful, restless Sulie abandons Jack and their two-year-old, Claire, the adoring father rises to the occasion, giving Claire an extraordinarily happy childhood, which is followed by her happy marriage to handsome Eli and the devoted mothering of two children. After Jack's death, Claire and Eli move to a seaside Connecticut town. Claire works part-time as a psychologist and manages a little inn in the summer, but she finds herself at loose ends after her youngest goes off to college. She becomes fascinated with a single father and his blind daughter, lodgers at the inn. Eli senses something wrong with the dad, but Claire colors these guests with her memories of her relationship with Jack. Gentler enriches a conventional plot with beautifully realized details, such as the blind child's navigation of unfamiliar spaces. If everything about the book doesn't work--Eli is too perfect, shifts in narration are occasionally too abrupt--its rich emotional tone and the durable themes are definitely rewarding. An excellent choice for fans of Charlotte Vale Allen and Luanne Rice. --Roberta Johnson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

On the surface, Claire's life seems perfect: she loves her veterinarian husband, has two healthy and happy kids in college, boasts a successful career as a psychologist, and runs the Drifting Inn, in coastal Connecticut. But appearances can be deceiving: Claire has never successfully come to terms with her mother's desertion of her and her father when Claire was a toddler. This is brought home to Claire when Nick Pierce and his blind, seven-year-old daughter, Kayla, register at Drifting. Nick tells Claire that his wife has walked out on him and Kayla. Predisposed by her own childhood experience to like and believe Nick, Claire only gradually comes to realize that her assumptions about him are wrong and that Kayla's well-being is threatened by her supposedly loving father. Following the resolution of this subplot, Claire sets out to track down her mother. Although the ending is tied up too neatly and sweetly, Gertler's third novel (following Jimmy's Girl and The Puzzle Bark Tree) displays the author's talent for creating sympathetic, well-realized characters and will please Elizabeth Berg fans.-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 C laire's footsteps echoed as she walked across the planked blue-gray floor of the veranda, her pink cotton robe trailing behind her. Her hair was gathered on top of her head in a mother-of-pearl clasp, stray wisps of pale blond framing her high cheekbones. She set her coffee mug on a glass table, rubbing away a frosted circular remnant of someone's drink with her fingertip; her deep-set eyes faced downward, pools of transparent blue mist. She sat too stiffly in the cushioned wicker chair, the newspaper folded in her lap, and gazed out the salt-sprayed window. The beach in the distance was strangely stilled by the early autumn morning. The sand appeared dark, littered with pine needles. She listened to the pine needles hitting the flat roof outside their bedroom window the sleepless night before as they tapped the shingles like steel pin drops. A flurry of leaves suddenly twirled like a pinwheel in a vortex of wind and she turned her head to see a blue-and-white-striped awning loosen from an upstairs dormer. The American flag hanging over the front porch twisted around itself like a Chinese yo-yo. Purple and pink asters, their blooms nearly finished now, strained in one final effort toward the September morning sun that struggled through the clouds. Stella came and sat beside her, tail wagging low; her eyes, clouded with marbled blue cataracts, gazed up at Claire. Claire patted the dog's flank, so lost in thought that she startled when Eli came into the room. "Good morning, ladies," he said, placing his steaming mug next to Claire's and scratching Stella behind the ears. He touched Claire's arm. "Penny for your thoughts." Claire smiled at her husband. "Hi," she said, as he leaned over to kiss her. "You smell like mint." "New soap," he said. "Is that good?" She nodded and focused her glance on his hands. His fingers curled around the mug of coffee as he brought it to his lips. His hands were mapped with dark spots but still strong. Large hands that had held their babies, covered their infants' heads, and enveloped her the times she thought she might break in half if not for their salvation. She remembered watching once while he delivered a foal. How deftly he took the foal from its mother, holding it as if it were made of fine blown glass. How he looked when he knelt beside the mare, his breath coming in short precise inhalations, perspiration glistening on his forehead as she brushed away an errant lock of hair that had fallen in his eyes. She thought as she sat across from him now how odd it was that his dark hair was streaked with silver and wondered when it turned and why she hadn't seen it happen. He was wearing black jeans and a plaid shirt rolled to his elbows; a frayed white T-shirt peeked out at the notch of his neck. "There's a rip in your shirt," she said tenderly. "At the collar. I can sew it. I've been neglecting you, haven't I?" Eli shook his head and fingered the tear. "It's not worth fixing," he said. "I'll toss it later. How's Stella this morning?" "Not so great," Claire said, stroking the golden retriever's back. "She's having trouble lately up and down the stairs." "Her depth perception's gone," Eli said, lifting the dog's chin, studying her eyes. "I think she misses the kids. It's too quiet around here." "It always feels quiet Monday mornings after the guests have gone," Eli said. "Especially this time of year." Claire lifted her head and looked into his eyes. She wanted to tell him that it wasn't just the quiet of a Monday morning. It wasn't just the time of year. This was different from every autumn morning they'd known for the last twenty-two years. Didn't he hear the absence of Jonah's blaring stereo and rattling of old pipes as Natalie ran a shower so steamy that vapors seeped under the bathroom door and wafted into the hallway? Normally, Claire would have been dressed by now, clearing the breakfast dishes, shooing Natalie out the door after kissing her slightly damp hair, breathing in her scent of rose water and cherry lip balm. It was a scorching-hot August day three weeks before when she hugged Natalie outside her freshman dormitory. The moment she knew would come all summer long. She could still taste the precise moment when she folded her daughter into her arms and held her motionless, bittersweet tears moistening Natalie's cheeks. "Mom!" Natalie said. "You promised you wouldn't cry." "I'm not," Claire said, forcing a smile. Natalie turned to her father. "Dad, do something!" "It's a mother's prerogative," he said, laughing. "She's held up real well until now." "You're going to be just fine," Claire said, smiling through glistening eyes, her breath held visibly. She stroked her daughter's cheek and tucked the loose strands of hair behind her ear. "Who are you trying to convince?" Natalie teased. "Remember to take your vitamins, okay? I bought you the ones with iron. . . ." "Mom," Natalie protested. "Enough. I'm a big girl." "Yes, you are," Claire said tenderly. "Sometimes I forget." Natalie turned to her father. "Help her, okay, Dad? She's all yours now." "I'll call you tonight," Claire said, hugging her daughter one more time. Eli placed his arm around Claire's waist and steered her from the steps of the ivy-covered dormitory, his arm staying around her although she turned at least a dozen times to wave as they walked down the path and over the crest of the hill to their truck. Natalie stood until they were gone from sight. It was all Claire could do not to run back and take Natalie home. Wait! the voice inside her cried. I'm not finished yet. Did I tell you everything you need to know? Teach you everything I've learned over the years? How can I leave you now? Eli held Claire's hand in the truck. Blasts of hot air from the air-conditioning vents made her breath feel shorter than it was. "You okay?" he asked, squeezing her hand. "It's going to be okay." Claire covered her mouth with her hand and began to cry. "I don't know what's the matter with me." Eli pulled her to him. "You're a mother," he said, drawing her closer to him, pressing his lips to the side of her head. "Part of me just isn't quite ready to let her go, that's all." "She's like a kite. She's so ready to fly," he said gently. "You're just letting out the string." Natalie called that night to say she was fine. To reassure her mother that she'd found the cafeteria and to tell about her roommate from California who brought a microwave. "You know, you packed enough Q-tips and Band-Aids for the whole university," Natalie said, laughing. "I could start a cottage industry." "Well, you never know. . . ." "I love you, Mom." I love you, Mom . The suffixed phrase came so easily to her children though Claire had never uttered it herself. She thought of the times Natalie raced out the door on a crisp fall morning, sweater tied around her waist, dangling beneath her coat, or Jonah darted back inside to retrieve something he'd forgotten. I love you, Mom! he, too, would cry unabashedly. "I love you, too!" Claire would call as they ran for the bus, her words carrying on the wind for eternity, bouncing back to her like echoes in a cave. "You're usually dressed by now," Eli said, watching her stare away from him again, wondering what she expected to find beyond his eyes. "No patients today?" "I have some reports to write for DSS. Another week before sessions begin again." "That's a late start for you." "Not really. Schools just opened today," she said. Eli stood behind her now, resting his hands on her shoulders, the two of them staring at the rocky beach, the red-and-white lighthouse motionless in the distance as though it were painted on the horizon. "Remember when the kids would ask if they swam as far as they could, where they'd end up?" she asked. "Jonah always said they'd be in Barcelona. Where on earth did he get that from? Barcelona?" She pictured Jonah and Natalie as they fished from the jetty, matching hooded gray sweatshirts, their skinny stick legs streaked with sunburn, protruding beneath baggy shorts. How was it possible they were on their own now? Wasn't it just yesterday that they wore backpacks bigger than they were and she double-knotted their shoelaces? Jonah. He graduated from college the May before and now was at veterinary school in Ohio, Eli's alma mater. He had left the week before Natalie, the black Chevy Blazer packed to the brim, his muscular, suntanned arm frozen in a wave through the open window. I love you, Mom, trailing behind him as he called from the window and drove away. Claire reached behind her and pressed her husband's hands with her fingertips. "Summer always ends so fast once Labor Day comes," she said. There was a distinct chill in the air. A breeze blew through an open jalousie and suddenly made her shiver. The few remaining sailboats were anchored in the small marina, rocking to and fro, their masts tinkling like bells. Jonah was ten and Natalie was six when they bought the Inn at Drifting-"Eight-guest-room gem on Dune Beach" in Drifting, Connecticut, as the brochure described it. "Delightful living room with stone fireplace and adjoining bar area. Elegant dining for fifty." The Inn looked like something out of storybook-an old ramshackle Victorian painted a pale periwinkle blue perched on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. "I never get tired of this view," Claire said. Eli bent down and kissed his wife's cheek. "You used to say that about the Jersey side of the Hudson." Claire was about to answer when she heard the school bus come to a screeching halt. She pictured the children as they climbed clumsily up the wide steps, the door shutting with a screech, the bus chugging down the street leaving a stream of exhaust in its wake. "Seven-twenty," she said knowingly as the sound of the wheels became distant. Eli kissed the top of her head. "What are you thinking lately? Tell me." She turned to look up at him, her lips parted, her eyebrows raised ever so slightly. "Nothing. You know. Natalie. Jonah." "No," Eli said, shaking his head. "It's more than that." "Wait a minute. Who's the psychologist, you or me?" "I speak as a husband, Dr. Cherney." "Nothing's going on. It's just that all this is so new to me. You know, with the kids away . . . I'm still learning to separate, that's all," she said, brushing imaginary specks from her robe. "Baloney." "You make me so damn mad sometimes, Eli Bishop," she said, looking up at him, her eyes fiery. "I do, do I? How's that?" "Because you're like some kind of mind reader or something." "Comes from spending my days with animals." "Well, whatever it is, it's annoying," she said with a laugh. "So, are you going to come clean or not?" "You have to leave. Go!" she said, giving him a playful shove. "I have a few minutes," he said, looking at his watch. "Spill." She stretched her arms over her head and relaxed her body. "It's complicated, Eli," she said, blowing out a puff of breath. "What is?" "I tell you what-we'll talk tonight. I promise." "Are you okay?" "I'm fine. It's just with the kids gone I have all this time to think all of a sudden." "So that's good. . . ." "It's good," she said hesitantly, taking his hand. "But?" "But I'm thinking about my mother, Eli," she said, swallowing hard. "How do you leave a baby?" She inhaled deeply. "I'm a little too old for this, aren't I?" "No, you're not too old for this, Claire," he said. She put up her hand to pull the hair back from her face. "I've got to get myself going. And you're going to be late." "I don't care," Eli said. "Talk to me." "I can't just yet. I have to think things through some more." She looked up at him. "Listen, I'll be fine. Resilient's my middle name. You know me. . . ." He bent down and kissed her. "Very well," he said. "I know you very well." --from Drifting by Stephanie Gertler, copyright © 2003 Stephanie Gertler, published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher. Excerpted from Drifting by Stephanie Gertler All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.