Sometimes the fabulousness of a book is all about timing. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for my reading of Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman – in the depths of a Melbourne winter, the scorching summer sun and the seaside-town perfection of Martha’s Vineyard crackled off the page.
“Summer seemed to arrive at that moment, with its mysterious mixture of salt, cold flesh and fuel.”
The publishing world got a tad excited about Tigers – it’s Klaussman’s debut novel and it has been lauded the ‘new’ Gatsby. Big praise for a first book although it should also be noted that Klaussmann is the great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville and secured a six-figure deal on Tigers (there is a nice little coincidence here – Chad Harbach’s first book, The Art of Fielding, also scored a practically unheard of six-figure sum and includes lots of references to Herman Melville).
It’s the story of Nick and her cousin, Helena, who have grown up sharing summers at Tiger House, the glorious old family estate on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The story begins as World War II ends, with Nick and Helena on the cusp of adulthood and beginning married lives – Nick to Hughes and Helena to Avery.
“They were sitting in the backyard of their house on Elm Street wearing their slips and drinking gin neat out of old jelly jars. It was the hottest Indian summer anyone in Cambridge could remember.”
As the years pass, neither Nick or Helena finds life quite what they had imagined and 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 – the body of a woman.
Tigers in Red Weather is no ‘whodunit’ – in fact, the details of the murder are quite clear. However, the clever telling and re-telling of scenes from different points-of-view plant a seed of doubt in the reader’s mind, enough to make this book quite the page-turner.
I loved so much about Tigers – the truthfulness of the characters (you may not necessarily like them much); the under-current of suspense and violence – quiet and nagging; the decadence – the martinis, the whiskey sours, the gin and tonics. Someone on Twitter said it was like Gatsby meets Valley of the Dolls – yes!
“The martini that arrived reminded Nick of the sea and their house on the island: clean, briny and utterly familiar.”
I particularly loved Klaussman’s writing style. Her descriptions are magnificent – rich and evocative but not overdone. Her dialogue is perfection – packed with emotion, pregnant pauses and just the right amount left ‘unsaid’. Take this description of Nick and Helena, from Daisy’s point-of-view, as an example –
“They could have said anything, and she would have loved them. Just the lilt of their voices, the smell of their mingling perfume brushing the air, was like a love song. She wanted to be with them out there on the porch, under the too-bright moon, crushing ice and letting the strap slide off her shoulder.”
And lastly, because I always like a little bit of wisdom regarding matters of the heart, comes this gem from Nick –
“If there’s one thing you can be sure about in this life, it’s that you won’t always be kissing the right person.”
Tigers in Red Weather simply must be taken with a prawn cocktail. There’s an early reference in the book to the shrimp boats and dining on ‘shrimp and cucumber salad’ – doesn’t that sound like the perfect, cool dish for ‘red weather’?