Reviewed by June J. McInerney
Tigers in Red Weather (July 2012) by Liza Klaussmann follows the adult lives of two wealthy cousins on Martha’s Vineyard during the years following World War II. In this, Klaussmann’s debut offering to mainline historical literature, Nick and Helena share their inherited homes and aspiring hopes for a new beginning at life. Nick eagerly awaits the return of her husband, Hughes, from service in the Navy. Helena, a young widow, is about to marry Avery, an ersatz film producer, and move to California. It is the first time the cousins are separated. We soon learn that Helena, living in the shadow of her boisterous and flamboyant cousin, is dependent upon Nick for both financial and emotional survival. As the years pass, Nick and Helena each have a child. When their children, Daisy and Ed, discover a woman’s body in a beach shed, the consequences thereof entwine their families together and provide the fodder for this intriguing emotion-packed psychological novel.
When I first saw the brightly colored cover—two young women in red bathing suits sitting under a parasol on a beach—I thought this would be entertainingly light fare for one last shore fling. A few pages in, I unexpectedly and delightfully realized it is a serious, in-depth portrayal of family members gone awry, couched in airy, simple dialogue and superficial, vodka martini-sipping trappings of summer life on an exclusive estate. Hughes returns from the war shrouded in dark secrets. Avery is not the respectable man Helena thought she married. Their son, Ed, jaded by childhood observations, is the catalyst of misfortune. Outwardly affectionate and seemingly close, Nick and Helena are actually emotionally estranged. Daisy is the only one of Klaussmann’s well thought-out characters who seems to be normal, retaining the uplifting sense of optimism that starts but, sadly, does not end their story.
Best read by adults, this novel reads like a modern-day version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. However, while Klaussmann’s writing is fluid and rich in descriptions and three-dimensional character analysis—each with his/her own unique section to weave into the family’s tale—it falls just a tad short of the mark. The intriguing plot line was fairly straightforward until it started to crack at the seams towards the end. This left me with a vague feeling of discord, wanting a more explicit conclusion. The author is a superb steady-on writer, so I am curious why the ending took such a sharp turn, drifting away with unexplained poetic allusions not previously mentioned.
All in all, despite its few flaws, I did find Tigers in Red Weather an exceptional first attempt at literature. I eagerly recommend reading this novel. It has literary merit and should not be passed over; but read, savored, and enjoyed. Liza Klaussmann, a former journalist for The New York Times and a direct descendant of Herman Melville, definitely has proven herself to be an author with great potential. I look forward to her next endeavor.
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