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The Gravity of Birds
"A complex web of jealousy and heartache." - O, The Oprah Magazine
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What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Created: 08/18/13

Replies: 29

Posted Aug. 18, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 558

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What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Natalie and Alice have a strained, sometimes hostile relationship. Yet there are a few moments in the novel when Natalie is truly there for Alice. What factors are at play in this sibling relationship? Does Alice always deserve the reader’s sympathy? Do you think Natalie deserves Alice’s hatred? Do you have sympathy for Natalie or do you find her actions unforgivable?


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
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rosannes

Join Date: 01/29/13

Posts: 21

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Without a doubt , this was sibling rivalry at its best. I think Natalie got herself into a situation she later regretted. I don't know that Alice deserved sympathy but I definitely didn't care for Natalie. I do believe she was vindictive and controlling. If I were Alice I would be extremely unforgiving.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
bonnieb

Join Date: 09/11/11

Posts: 92

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I think that as adolescents, Natalie and Alice both loved Thomas and the jealousy and rivalry split them apart. With Natalie's infertility, she could never forgive Alice's ability to bear children and was driven to ruin Alice. Alice, on her part, was so weak physically and psychically, that she could not stand up to Natalie. She repressed truths that, had she been stronger, she would have admitted to herself. I felt sorry for Alice and think that Natalie earned the hatred that Alice felt towards her after her death. I did not have any sympathy for Natalie. She was a narcissistic and vile person.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
judyw

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 22

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I could not fathom why Natalie would steal Alice's child and have the baby raised by another person. I'm sure she initially felt Alice, with her disabilities could not care for the child, but it appeared to be pure hatred to me.
And, the vindictiveness continued for so many years! Alice was deprived of knowing her daughter and that is totally inexcusable.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
rebajane

Join Date: 04/21/11

Posts: 138

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I thought Natalie's reaction and actions involving Alice's baby were over the top. Since we didn't see Natalie's point of view it's difficult to understand what drove her so far. It was confusing to me


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
sharalynnep

Join Date: 12/04/11

Posts: 33

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I don't have any sympathy for Natalie..what she did was unforgivable. There was nothing she could say that would excuse what she did. Maybe that's why the author didn't give us her point of view.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
mariannes

Join Date: 12/17/12

Posts: 152

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Natalie and Alice have a horrible relationship, full of hatred on both sides. They made each other miserable. I guess they stayed together for financial reasons, but I don't think it was worth it for either one. There were a few glimpses of feelings besides hatred, but not many. One of the characters said Natalie was "a very disturbed young woman," and I think that sums it up best. I would say she was psychotic, but the book says it in a nicer way.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 130

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Yeah, what a life those two had!

I can actually find a small area of understanding for Natalie. First, they were both very young, and young people DO tend to over-react. But also Natalie had spent so much time & effort caring for Alice and knew she'd have to keep that up for the rest of her life, and here was Alice having a child that Natalie would ALSO have to care for. I think she made a poor choice, and once committed didn't know how to go back, but if she was truly vindictive she wouldn't have told Alice's daughter that Alice was a good person; I think she would have lied and said Alice was evil.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
bonnieb

Join Date: 09/11/11

Posts: 92

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I have to respectfully disagree with kimk. I think Natalie was vindictive as indicated by her sending the picture of Agnette to Thomas and not telling Alice anything about the money situation or not selling their home in Connecticut. She constantly put Alice down and tried to get her to think poorly of herself and doubt her own instincts and beliefs. It was not youth that drove Natalie to her actions but narcissism. Natalie would never have had to take care of Alice's child. I believe that if Alice had been given the chance to be a mother, she would have taken care of her own child. Natalie was just livid and jealous that Alice had Thomas's child. No one is ALL bad. That she told Agnette that Alice was good might have been the one kernel of goodness in Natalie.


Posted Sep. 08, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
johnw

Join Date: 03/11/12

Posts: 22

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I agree with many of the other reviewers that as children their relationship was a classic example of sibling rivalry, but Alice having a child by Thomas forever altered the traditional end of sibling rivalry that occurs with adulthood. In addtion, Natalie is such a narcissist that she is forever unable to forgive or see things from Alice's perspective. The birth of a child that pulled them apart could have brought them together had Natalie allowed Alice to raise the child.


Posted Sep. 09, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
shelbyl

Join Date: 05/19/11

Posts: 22

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

As stated above, Natalie's narcissism and circumstance surrounding her infertility enabled her to behave in a most unkind way towards Alice. This was an overblown case of sibling rivalry exacerbated by Natalie's neurosis. We might think to be vindictive but most of us would never follow through in the way Natalie did.


Posted Sep. 09, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
rebajane

Join Date: 04/21/11

Posts: 138

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I don't know why Natalie would have thought she needed to take care of Alice for the rest of her life. I felt her condescending to Alice kept her down but Alice could have taken care of herself if supported


Posted Sep. 09, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 130

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Perhaps my opinion is prejudiced by being an elder sister who was always responsible for her younger sister's care. :::-)::

To me it seemed like Natalie just took over responsibility for Alice when their folks died, and that Alice went along with it. I don't see it so much as Natalie keeping Alice down as a co-dependent relationship to which each contributed.

... But obviously that's just me; my opinion seems to be in the minority.


Posted Sep. 09, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
sallyh

Join Date: 09/07/12

Posts: 56

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

This relationship went beyond sibling rivalry. Natalie punished Alice for a variety of things, from her own (Natalie's) inability to have children to Alice's RA, none of which were Alice's fault. I wasn't all that fond of Alice, at least not until the end of the book, but when it comes to her relationship with Natalie, Natalie is totally the villain.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
darylb

Join Date: 06/23/13

Posts: 17

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Natalie was wicked. She was so jealous of Alice and felt the need to be in control of everything. Their parents leaving money for Alice to be taken care of when they died, Alice having a child when she was unable to, and I think she was jealous of the fact that Thomas had been with Alice, too. But Alice was too trusting and found it easier to just accept whatever Natalie told her.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Lea Ann

Join Date: 04/20/11

Posts: 68

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Two siblings, best friends for years, then something tears them apart. Initially, I believe it was an age and personality difference; both yearning for the same man who manipulated each for his own selfish reasons. One wonders if Thomas had not been in the picture, would the sisters have remained close friends. As they grow older and as Alice's physical condition worsens, so does the relationship. In addition to the earlier, ongoing competition re Thomas, now there is Alice's unwilling dependence upon Natalie for care and Natalie's understandable anger, possibly not even acknowledged by herself, at being a caretaker. Each sister is hampered in her life by the other. Alice is dependent upon Natalie and Natalie takes on the care of Alice, giving up any normal relationship with friends, lovers, others who might have entered her life. The author gives us no examples of any "normal" life that either sister lives and instead leaves them both to stew, as it were, in the pot of interdependence and resentment.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
bonnieb

Join Date: 09/11/11

Posts: 92

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I agree with daryl b. Natalie was wicked, a truly evil person - a narcissist without empathy and compassion. She detested Alice and was cruel to her at every chance she had.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
bonnieb

Join Date: 09/11/11

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I have to respectfully disagree with Lea Ann. Natalie did have lovers. She was selfish and self-absorbed, taking on the care of Alice only in order to maintain a facade built on layers of lies.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
kimk

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 130

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I'm very eager to hear how the author views Natalie when she replies to our questions next week.

While Natalie had lovers, there's no mention of a real relationship - very sad. I also think the character is more complex than being "simply evil." Personally, I think all her motives were mixed. I think she resented taking care of Alice, but continued to do it out of a sense of obligation. I can't see any other reason that she would have continued caring for her -- Alice's meds weren't cheap.

But of course, since Natalie's views aren't expressed in the novel, just her actions, we can't know what her motives were. As I said -- I'm looking forward to what the author has to say.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
darylb

Join Date: 06/23/13

Posts: 17

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I think Natalie had financial motivation to stick things out. The money her parents left had been designated for Alice's care, the rental income from their home that she told Alice was sold and she could have been collecting some child support from Thomas. She was well enough off to hire full time help and to take two vacations a year to see Agnete. With Alice's poor health she probably thought she would outlive her and Alice would never know all her lies.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
ilyseb

Join Date: 08/17/11

Posts: 3

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I did not have much sympathy for Natalie's actions. I do feel that things were done to her as a teenager that affected her life greatly including her ability to have a family, but I feel that her actions towards Alice were extremely vicious. I do feel that it was difficult for her to be responsible for Alice, and that she was extremely jealous of Alice's pregnancy, but I also think her actions were prompted by spite because of who the father of the baby was.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Navy Mom

Join Date: 04/12/12

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I really didn't understand Natalie's meanness. Even after we found out that she had been forced to have the abortion, I still didn't understand why she wouldn't have wanted to Alice to be happy. It just seemed there should have been more explanation to why Natalie was so evil. I didn't see much redemption in the fact that she did take care of Alice. Keeping Alice so restricted and close to her added to her evilness.


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
paml

Join Date: 10/25/12

Posts: 36

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

Natalie was the beautiful older sister, getting all the attention. Alice not so much, as portrayed in Thomas's painting of the Kesslers. Alice lived in Natalie's shadow. Then Natalie suffers the loss of her baby and can't have children. Their parents die and Natalie is now "responsible" for Alice, who has a child.
Just to play devil's advocate; we never hear Natalie's side of the story, only Alice's. Interesting! Is Natalie so wicked? Did Alice play no role in their distorted relationship?


Posted Sep. 11, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
janam

Join Date: 09/11/13

Posts: 3

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I had a lot of trouble with the way their relationship was portrayed in the book. I felt the character of Natalie was too one-sided. It felt like her actions prompted by her jealously of Alice were too extreme and therefore not very realistic. I also didn't get a feel for what Natalie was like all the time they were living in Orion. Maybe if there had been a chapter from Natalie's point of view it would have helped.

I also felt the character of Alice could have been a little better developed. I know the pain from a disease like RA can affect one's personality, but I would have liked to see some flashes of the spunk Alice exhibited at the beginning of the book.

I would have liked to see Natalie be kinder to her sister, and Alice be more independent, so I didn't feel a lot of sympathy for either of them. I had very little sympathy for Natalie. Being sterile due to an abortion was sad, but her actions were too cruel. But I did have more sympathy for Alice being separated from her child and told she had died. If she had had a child to raise, she might have had a more positive outlook on life.


Posted Sep. 14, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
joyces

Join Date: 06/16/11

Posts: 244

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RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

This is a truly interesting discussion with lots of different takes on this relationship.
I usually try to read a discussion question and form my own answer in my head before reading other contributors opinions. I this case I am glad I did because this is sort of all over the place as far as responses.

I think the personal trauma that Natalie suffered by being forced to have an abortion which left her sterile and then being left as executor of a will where their parents in reality left the entire estate to be used for Alice's care was a pretty large load to leave on anyone. She did not handle it well as we saw but that was maybe a little understandable.
Alice on the other hand seems to have allowed herself to rather wallow in misery from the time she was told her baby had died forward. She did not seem to engage with the world in any way or attempt to be particularly productive and that was I am sure a self-fulfilling state of misery.
I am sure that Natalie's rather constant nastiness might have been in response to that. Natalie's taking Alice's child and seeing to its care and establishing a relationship with her was probably the only way she felt she had any control of anything and may have been the only joy in her life.
If Pheneas had not been so persistent in making contact with Alice and then bringing his nephew into Alice's
life she would have never gotten out of her funk nor had someone who could sort through the mess she
was left after Natalie's sudden death. All of which, of course, led to the finding of Agnete and the interaction
with Finch and Stephen. I think perhaps that Alice at last understood her sister though it was a bit much to
forgive her the absence of Agnete for all these years.


Posted Sep. 14, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
asha

Join Date: 05/01/13

Posts: 26

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I thought long and hard about this topic and am extremely glad to see it as a discussion.

My first reaction to Natalie was very negative...As the story unfolded, I knew there was more to her than what was visible. In the end, I saw Natalie's relationship with Alice as one of strained nurture to a wallowing victim. Both of them were victim's of life and Natalie chose (the author's prerogative) to live in a way that was vindictive. On the one hand she tormented her sister Alice who for the better part of the book was a wilting lily. On the other hand, Natalie raised her niece, albeit very strangely, thus bestowing her mothering instincts elsewhere...

Both Natalie and Alice were trapped together in life, unable to separate or reconcile. Such was the gravity of their situation.


Posted Sep. 17, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
keizerfire

Join Date: 04/14/11

Posts: 13

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

The girls childhood seems to have been rather idyllic, and it seems they cared for each other. The turning point seems to have been when Natalie became pregnant and was sent away for an abortion. From that point, she seems to have shifted into a wicked, vindictive, spiteful woman, determined to make those around her pay, through no fault of their own. Because of her meanness and bitterness, she scrambled the lives of so many other people. I find it difficult to find her a sympathetic character. Alice on the other hand, needed a kick in the hiney to get her out her martyrdom and make her get back into the real world.


Posted Sep. 17, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
JulieAB

Join Date: 07/16/13

Posts: 22

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I think there are so many factors at play. Sibling rivalry is big in the beginning. But, I think as the story goes on, Natalie just becomes more angry with having to care for Alice. But, here is where I struggle. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking about my own sisters, and I kept coming back to the conclusion that Natalie was just evil. I am very close to my sisters, and growing up we had our moments as all siblings do. But, there isn't anything I wouldn't do for them. And, Natalie just manipulated and lied through their entire realtionship.


Posted Sep. 20, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
lucyb

Join Date: 03/09/12

Posts: 8

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I think jealousy was the primary factor. I have a sister just a year older than me. We had our moments also in growing up. One moment we would be close and then out of the blue we would be unable to see eye to eye. Competiveness also factored in.


Posted Sep. 20, 2013 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
marganna

Join Date: 10/14/11

Posts: 23

RE: What factors are at play in Natalie and Alice's relationship?

I wanted to say their relationship seemed normal in the early years, but looking back, I see the strain of jealousy, mistrust and competitiveness early on. I don't think the appearance of young Thomas, the artist, was much more than the catalyst to start the already seed planted to grow.
It's normal for sibs to have ups & downs ~ moments of intense closeness followed by moments of extreme dislike even hatred. Natalie was 1st born, headstrong, beautiful, manipulative; Alice was a dreamer with her birds. Natalie would be #1 regardless of the consequences.
Natalie: evil? No, not evil, but certainly driven to be in control. The pregnancies definitely had much to do with Natalie's bitterness as did Alice's disease.


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