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Nick Derringer and her cousin Helena grew up spending their summers at their family beach house in Martha's Vineyard, dubbed Tiger House. During the Second World War, the pair toughed it out together, using ration books to buy food and painting lines onto the backs of each other's legs when they couldn't get nylons. When the war ended Nick resumed her married life as her husband Hughes returned from war. Her normal, boring, married life. Nick was convinced she was destined for so much more. Helena, on the other hand, longed for nothing but a normal, boring life. When the war ended she married her second husband, Avery Lewis, who moved her to Hollywood and continued to follow his own dreams, or perhaps obsessions. When the cousins return to Tiger House in 1959, each with an adolescent child in tow, their lives are irreparably altered when their children--Daisy and Ed--discover a body near Tiger House, the victim of a grisly murder.
The story is told from each of the characters' perspectives separately, skipping back and forth from the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's (although each chapter is clearly labelled with the date and character, so there's no confusion whose version of events one is reading). It's not a mystery, though some mysteries are certainly revealed. It's more like a portrait of a family, one that reveals hints of darkness beneath an otherwise pleasant facade. It's a slice of upper middle class American life on the brink of the 1960's, with secrets bubbling just below the surface and everyone struggling to assert themselves within the confines of "normal" suburban life.
Throughout the novel several characters reference the work of American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955). (In fact the title comes from a Stevens' poem.) He was a poet who believed that a poem shouldn't talk about a thing, it should be the thing itself. I can think of no greater tribute to him than this novel. Tigers in Red Weather doesn't talk about the human condition. It shows it. It reveals it slowly, in this portrait of these characters, subtly and poetically. There are no lectures or soliloquies in Liza Klaussman's work. The characters simply are. She allows each of them the space to reveal themselves, offering just enough of a glimpse into each one's thoughts that the reader can see them for who they are, filling in the blanks of the things that go unspoken among them. She trusts her reader to discern the whole from only part, to see the world by its fleeting shadow, to understand her characters from their subtleties and lies as much as from their actions and words. She creates characters that stay with you long after the last page.
I've read novels in which the author leaves no blank unfilled. Ones in which the author heavy-handedly insists that we know every detail about every character, and makes sure that we the readers are told how we should feel about every character, every problem. Ones in which there is no work at all for the reader to do, other than complete the novel and agree with the author on every point or else leave the book unfinished on our night stands. Liza Klaussman is not that author. Her book, like a poem, is lovely and poignant and values the shadow as well as the light, the subtle as well as the obvious, the silence as well as the proclamation.
Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley.com. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.