Tigers in Red Weather, By Liza Klaussmann

 

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The Independent Culture

Liza Klaussmann's accomplished debut beings on a sultry summer's night in 1945 in a backyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Nick, and her cousin Helene are "drinking neat gin out of old jelly jars" and listening to Louis Armstrong records.

The story that unfolds spans 25 years, taking these women to Florida and LA, before back to their beloved New England. Tiger House, the house on Martha's Vineyard where most of the story plays out, is Nick's inheritance, and she and her husband, Hughes, and their daughter, Daisy, are joined there each summer by Helene and her son, Ed.

This set-up indulges the undercurrents of resentment, envy and family rivalries that bubble beneath the surface of the martinis and whiskey sours. All the period details are there: husbands with wandering hands, women puffing away on cigarettes while pregnant, and children mixing cocktails for their parents.

But Daisy and Ed's discovery of a dead body in summer 1959 shoots an unexpectedly dark thread through the novel. It's partly the way the story unfurls that makes it so gripping a read. The novel is split into five sections, each told from the perspective of a different Tiger House resident. Meaning is only inferred as layer upon layer of the plot is built up. It's a slow-starter, but the pay-off makes it worth the wait.

Klaussman also does an excellent job in maintaining a believable distinction between the various voices: whether it's a young bride "hungry" for adventure who wants to "stuff the whole world into her mouth", or a frustrated husband who longs to crack his wife open, "like a nut or a crab, to find out what was going on inside".

The backdrop of the "suffocating" heat – viscerally rendered in images of a "fetid carpet" of wilted blossoms on a front lawn, a stone walk littered with crisp husks from "flash-fried" insects, or the sweating crystal of a cocktail glass – makes for chilling reading. Beneath the glamorous façade there's something rotten. Like a piece of overripe fruit left too long in the sun, the flushed and swollen skin hides the bruised flesh within.

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