A yellow bathing suit, a red bathing suit and family secrets.
Synopsis of Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann: Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha's Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their 'real lives': Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.
Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena's husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena--with their children, Daisy and Ed--try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.
Brilliantly told from five points of view, with a magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut from a writer of extraordinary insight and accomplishment.
My two centsThe book in one sentence: Do we ever really know the people closest to us?
Right off I am declaring this as one of my top reads for 2012. When I put my name in for the draw at Goodreads, I will admit that I did it based on the beautiful cover and the unusual title. But this is definitely not mere eye candy: you need to read this!
Do you remember the emerald green dress in Atonement by Ian McEwan? For Tigers in Red Weather, undoubtedly what I'll remember is a yellow bathing suit. Like that bathing suit, the book opens all "yellow" -- feel-goody, with hopeful characters, even Stepford-wifey.
Of course, all that changes and this family saga turns dark and creepy as we get into the rather twisted lives and minds of the five characters -- who also happen to be given their own sections in the book -- spanning decades.
And there is a gruesome murder to boot, sort of like a dirty family secret by which the characters are inevitably bound. But this isn't a story about the murder, although it provides some juicy fodder for the reader to learn about how the characters are impacted emotionally and psychologically. Enter the red bathing suit years, decades later.
"Brilliantly told..." yes, I agree. The five viewpoints, which makes for five major sections of the book are:
- Nick, dark-haired, tempestuous, ambitious and all-woman ... who eventually relents for what she thinks is a good life with her handsome husband Hughes;
- Helena, Nick's cousin, who has romantic and rather naive notions of love and life, marries a scam director who is in love with a dead actress ... and eventually falls into drugs and liquor to mask her pain;
- Hughes, Nick's husband, steady, loyal, and even a little dull ... who discovers his own passionate side while away at war, unfortunately not with his wife Nick;
- Daisy, Nick and Hughes' perfect golden-haired daughter, and
- Ed, Helena and Avery's very, very strange son.
As the five characters tell their own stories, slowly pieces of the puzzle come together. Relationships come to clarity. Details of the murder makes sense. People started to make sense. I finished the book with a sense of bravado mingled with intense sadness.
There are so many things I love about this book:
- The setting (Martha's Vineyard) and the time period (1940s-60s) makes for a lush and languid setting with visions of retro fashions and pin-up girls.
- The characters who are flawed, who I felt I was watching "imploding" as I read, so that I loved them all the more.
- The on-point depiction of complex family relationships, intimacies, and secrets -- between husband and wife, between cousins, among family members.
- The writing ... oh, the writing! Klaussmann's rich, descriptive and eloquent language -- you can listen to an excerpt below:
This is a gem of a book. I will re-read this and recommend this widely!
As an end note, Klaussmann is the great-great-great granddaughter of Herman Melville. No matter. I would've read and loved this without knowing this ... she sure does Melville proud.Verdict:A complex psychological read into family relationships, told in beautifully descriptive, languid language. Highly recommended for those who love literary fiction with an edge.
First line:"I'm not sure if it's a blessing or a curse," Helena said.
Last line: I like that.
I received an Advanced Reader Copy from Goodreads First Reads. (I only wish I had one of the covers above as the ARC is a plain red cover.)