TIGERS IN RED WEATHER is the debut novel of Herman Melville’s third great-granddaughter, a work of extraordinary talent by a long-time New York Times journalist. This lush, artistic historical is set during and directly following the period of World War II, a 20-year time span that jumps between worldwide locales but centers primarily on the exclusive elegance of Martha’s Vineyard. The atmosphere is historical but also sultry, unsettling, unpredictable, intense and terrifying.
"This is the work of an exquisitely talented writer who trusts in the reader’s intelligence and lets you ponder deep meanings. TIGERS IN RED WEATHER is an astounding debut and undoubtedly one of the best books of the year."
The central couple are Nick and Hughes Derringer, a perfect pair who outwardly fit the pristine mold of beauty and societal expectations. Nevertheless, the two are inherently contradictory. Hughes is predictable, stately, athletic and blonde, a perfect career man and husband who adores his wife but wants to “keep her” a little too well and too orderly. Nick despises being enclosed and hates being confined to traditional female roles. She acts the part of the consummate housewife out of love for her husband, and is a very interesting woman in that she is not truly beautiful at all but somehow all the more intoxicating because of that. She seems to be everything her husband isn’t --- dark, unpredictable, surprising --- and men sense in her a subtle “falseness” that draws her to them. Even while Nick loves her husband desperately and passionately, being “kept” seems to drive her a little more mad every day.
Continual marital troubles plague Nick and Hughes, particularly after Hughes succumbs to an unfortunate but enticing affair while serving in the Navy. After his return, Nick can barely breathe for worry he will leave her, but also senses his dishonesty and cannot forgive him. Strangely, Hughes’ physical act of betrayal seems less important to Nick than the emotional betrayal. She is drawn by some strange psychosis to repeat his crime, but even while Nick flirts with disaster, Hughes attempts to hold on to her as the couple’s secrets are laid bare. The pair are trapped in odd, blissful misery while perpetual love drives them forward until some relief comes in the form of their daughter, Daisy, who is beautiful, golden, honest and true. Could she be the answer to her family’s unsettled paradox?
The other central couple here are Helena and Avery, Helena being Nick’s closest friend and cousin. They face a similar situation in their attempts to overcome long marital struggles, but of a different variety. From the outset, Helena was too sweet and trusting, while Avery showed a distinct tendency to let her down and leave her solitary. Having failed in her first marriage, Helena puts all her hopes and dreams into the second union, but after becoming pregnant with his child, “Ed”, her fate is sealed. Avery promises her the moon and never delivers as Ed grows up in a strange atmosphere polluted by an absentee father and dejected, naive mother. Interestingly, Avery’s public story is that he’s working away in Hollywood, building a career on the legend of a dead actress --- a woman who, incidentally, he had been sleeping with just before she was murdered.
TIGERS IN RED WEATHER is a novel that can only be described as exquisitely intriguing and surprising, equal parts mystery/thriller and modern literature. Much of the story revolves around a murder that occurs on the island, as families begin to collide in a strange, magical nexus they call the “Tiger House.” The lives of the islanders are shaken by some unstoppable force that initially appears to be brought on by violence and war, but later evolves into something more disturbing and powerful. While humanity splinters, readers begin to question whether these people are merely chasing the ideas of truth and beauty, and good and evil, or looking deeper into men’s souls in an honest attempt to learn and understand, even accept, the flawed natures of human beings capable of terrible and beautiful things.
One thing you can be sure of is that Liza Klaussmann offers no easy answers and provides endless food for thought. This is the work of an exquisitely talented writer who trusts in the reader’s intelligence and lets you ponder deep meanings. TIGERS IN RED WEATHER is an astounding debut and undoubtedly one of the best books of the year.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on July 27, 2012