Literature has taught us that affluent WASP families — especially the kind who drink away their feelings and spend seasons on idyllic islands with houses that have their own names — tend to implode in rather spectacular fashion. Take the clan at the heart of Liza Klaussmann’s debut novel. Tigers in Red Weather opens in 1945 with beautiful, charismatic Nick and her cousin Helena as they spend a last booze-soaked night together before separating to meet up with their new husbands. Nick is anxious to rejoin her mate, who’s been fighting overseas, while Helena is heading to Hollywood, where her own spouse, a dubious producer, is awaiting her arrival.
The cousins have spent summers at their family home — called the Tiger House — in Martha’s Vineyard since childhood, and on this particular night they pledge to continue meeting there. ”Houses, husbands and midnight gin parties. Nothing’s going to change. Not in any way that really matters,” Nick tells Helena. ”It will be like always.” As the book unfolds over the next two decades, the women and their families do return to the Vineyard year after year. But despite Nick’s promise, not much stays the same. Tigers in Red Weather chronicles all manner of familial heartbreak, including jealousy, adultery, and even a murder, which threatens to sever relationships for good.
Klaussmann — the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville — captures these events through five different characters’ perspectives, Rashomon-style. And her sharp observations and lyrical prose make for a poignant read. While that island crime is in many ways the book’s centerpiece, much of the enjoyment of this finely woven novel comes from the small fault lines that appear over time in one family’s foundation. A-