Stirring things up on Martha’s Vineyard

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Cousins, Nick and Helena Derringer, grew up spending their summers at Tiger House on the Vineyard. Now WWII has ended, they’re grown up and married, Nick to Hughes, freshly returned from the navy and working in Florida, and newly-wed Helena to Avery, a Hollywood producer. Florida doesn’t suit Nick and Hughes, they stifle in the heat, and you wonder how long their relationship will last.  There are tense times and too many shrimp dinners…

Nick looked up from the shrimp. Hughes hadn’t switched the radio on, but he was fingering the silver knobs. He had elegant fingers with neat, square nails. Everything about his was like his hands, tailored and clean, the color of pine. Nick watched him gaze at the dials, run the tips of his fingers over the brown covering of the speaker. She wanted to eat him, he was so beautiful. She wanted to cry or melt or gnash her teeth. Instead, she peeled the skin off another shrimp.

Things are left unsaid between them, secrets are not shared, but a move north to Cambridge, and the decision to have a baby seems to settle them. There will always be an underlying tension between Nick and Hughes though.

Shoot forward to 1959, and their daughter Daisy takes up the story. We’re on Martha’s Vineyard now at Tiger House, which Nick had inherited.  It was ‘the summer they found the body‘.  Helena and her son Ed were visiting for the summer, Ed, who can be very strange at times (like his father), skives off tennis school, then appears saying he has something to show Daisy – it’s the body of a maid from one of the local families.  This event naturally sends a shock-wave through the entire community. Hughes makes arrangements to keep Ed otherwise occupied.

Helena will take up the story next, and it’s clear that the tension between her and Nick, that Nick doesn’t realise is there, is growing. The problems with her strange husband and strange son too, lead her to an increasing dependence on pills and booze, something Avery had got her started on.

Stoic Hughes and weird Ed in turn will take up the story, which jumps from the mid forties to the 1950s, to the 1960s; Back and fro. However such is the skill of the author, that you’re never confused whom you’re listening to when.  In having the five main characters present the story in turn, we get inside their heads, and find out what they really think about each other.

Literary allusions abound, with lead characters being called Nick and Daisy and New England replacing Long Island, you are bound to think of The Great Gatsby.  The stifling start to Nick and Hughes’ relationship after the war recalls Yates’ Revolutionary Road.  The gin o’clock culture is pure Mad Men meets Hemingway, and to top it all, the author is related to another early chronicler of New England – Herman Melville!

This novel is not a heavy read however, combining the heady family drama with a central mystery that keeps on giving. It’s hard to believe that this was a debut novel – the writing is so accomplished, the characters are rounded and the plot is beautifully tense and controlled.  I was enthralled from the opening pages, and found this book near impossible to put down.  (10/10)

P.S. The title is from a 1915 poem (below) by Wallace Stevens about life made dull by a lack of imagination.

Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather.

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I received a review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

5 thoughts on “Stirring things up on Martha’s Vineyard

  1. sakura says:

    I’ve had this on my wish list since it was first published and since it seemed to have that Gatsby vibe although more modern in period. I now can’t wait to read it since you enjoyed it so much, Annabel.

  2. Alex says:

    This is the second excellent review I’ve read of this book, both from bloggers whose opinions I respect. My library doesn’t have a copy as yet. Some serious arm twisting is going to have to take place.

  3. Sly Wit says:

    I’m happy to see such a positive review of this book–I’ve spent a good deal of time on the Vineyard with my sister’s family and have been wondering about this title since I first heard about it.

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