Featured bedtime read: Tigers in Red Weather

By Liza Klaussmann, 2012

4 out of 5

Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summers at Tiger House, the glorious old family estate on the island of Martha's Vineyard. As World War II ends they are on the cusp of adulthood, the world seeming to offer itself up to them. Helena is leaving for Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is to be reunited with her young husband Hughes, due to return from London and the war. Everything is about to change.

Neither quite finds the life she had imagined, and as the years pass, the trips to Tiger House take on a new complexity.

Then, on the brink of the 1960s, Nick's daughter Daisy and Helena's son Ed make a sinister discovery. It plunges the island's bright heat into private shadow and sends a depth-charge to the heart of the family.

Summer seemed to arrive at that moment, with its mysterious mixture of salt, cold flesh and fuel.

Magnificently told from five perspectives, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut: a simmering novel of passion, betrayal and secret violence beneath a polished and fragile facade.

1945: September

"I'm not sure if it's a blessing or a curse," Helena said.

"At least it's something different," Nick said. "No more goddamn ration books. No more taking the bus everywhere. Hughes said he's bought a Buick. Hallelujah."

"Lord knows where he got it," Helena said. "Probably from some cheat fixer."

"Who cares," said Nick, stretching her arms lazily toward the New England night sky.

They were sitting in the backyard of their house on Elm Street wearing their slips and drinking gin neat out of old jelly jars.

Much has been said about Liza Klaussmann's debut novel Tigers in Red Weather, and certainly both the author and her debut book make for an intriguing affair. Klaussmann, the great great grand-daughter of Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick (you knew that), has sliced into the white picket fence existence of post-war America with her precise prose and let rip.

The book opens with cousins Nick and Helena, who have torn up their ration books and are gaily drinking neat gin out of old jelly jars, dancing in the New England air. The atmosphere is pregnant with anticipation — what's next for two pretty young things?

Nick is optimistic, waiting for her perfect polished husband Hughes to return from war. They married early. The wedding was a traditional affair where, she tells us, they had some overly strong punch, sandwiches and a sweet white cake with candied violets on it. The problem is Nick is anything but ordinary. Indeed she struggles to be contained within the claustrophobic demands of the domestic 1950s. Their new boxy house in Florida appalls her. As Nick puts it: 'it was a place for her to be perfect in, where all her strangeness would be sucked out of her, or at least hidden.'

Helena expects more out of life, and she gets less. Her married hand includes an addiction to prescription pills and Avary — a salesman with Sunshine Insurance and inflated Hollywood aspirations.

From these two dysfunctional couples, come two children, Daisy, all that is good and golden, and Edward, a disturbed Peeping Tom. With the introduction of the two children, the plot thickens. There's a corpse behind the tennis court, a murder most foul amid the bourjois of Martha's Vineyard.

This signals the beginning of a coming of age summer for the two twelve year olds, but Klaussmann never confines her story to one timeline. She's neither afraid to span the decades, nor does she restrict the narrative to one perspective. There are five voices — the two cousins, their two children and Hughes, Nick's blond and distracted husband. Via each, the storytelling baton is passed, as the tension ratches up.

This is a thrilling epic waltz through the underbelly of opulent post-war America. Imagine a vintage version of Desperate Housewives, complete with cigarettes, lipstick ladies and sordid secrets, and you're almost there. In the book, Nick marvels at her vodka martinis, at once clean and yet so poisonous — the same could be said for Tigers in Red Weather.

Enjoy the lethal cocktail!

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  • With palpable tension and spot-on sensual detail, Liza Klaussmann shows us a family in the exacting wake of the Second World War. Marvelously plotted and deliciously sophisticated, this is a book I'll be raving about for a good long while!- Paula McLain (author, The Paris Wife)
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More about the author

Liza Klaussmann

Liza Klaussmann worked as a journalist for the New York Times for over a decade. She has lived in Paris and is now based in London. Tigers in Red Weather is her first book.

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