Thursday, 20 September 2012

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

My boss recommended this book to me the other day, and since I found the cover so awesome, I decided to give it a shot. I literally devoured it. Liza Klaussmann's debut novel is an impressive piece of narrative technique and elegance. A closely knit plot with characters you can't decide if you love, loathe, or simply fear, this is a novel which will keep you guessing right until the end (and it's not even a crime fiction book, technically).

The book kicks off in 1945 when the cousins Nick and Helena's ways are parted with the end of the war. Nick is to be reunited with her husband Hughes who fought in the war, and Helena is off to Hollywood to marry her new husband Avery. But the honeymoon period is short-lived. Nick finds herself whiling away the days in the choking Florida heat, waiting for her husband who she now longer feels she knows. And Helena quickly wakes up to a reality where her new husband's attentions are focused on his "life project". In a year, both woman are pregnant. And as the years pass by, the cousins reunite in New England at Tiger House. But one summer the children Daisy and Ed witness something that will change all their lives forever.

I love the structure of the book. We start off with Nick as the focalizer, and we get her perspective from her life as a bored housewife who aches for her husband's attention and gets a kick out of flaunting her tiny bathing suit in front of her neighbours. One day an incident occurs, and Hughes finally decides they should move back to New England.

After Nick, we have skipped forwards in time to 1959 when Nick's daughter Daisy is 12. Daisy and Nick, Helena and Ed are all at Tiger House for the summer. Daisy is obsessing with her tennis, but she's also falling in love for the first time with Tyler Pierce. Though Daisy finds her cousin Ed strange, she's easily persuaded when he asks her to come spying with him, and through their eavesdropping, we get suggestions as to what is going on under the surface in the relationships between the adults. The tension is thick in the air, and we quickly realize that all is not how it should be. This turns out to be the summer that will change everything for the kids, and the consequences will be fatal.

We skip forwards in time to 1967 and another summer at Tiger House. The focalizer is Helena, and through her flashbacks we learn about her early days of marriage and how she discovered she was stuck with her Hollywood husband who devouted all his time and money to his "project". When she fell pregnant with Ed, Helena started hoping for a better life. But Ed turned out to be a lot like his father, always conducting "research" and not really getting along with other kids. The only one who seemed to like Ed was Daisy, who is now engaged to Tyler Pierce. But Helena is anything but happy for them, and we learn that she's nurtured a growing resentment towards her cousin Nick. The tension in the novel keeps growing and we know that a disaster is about to happen.

The next focalizer is Hughes. His story skips between the war and until the present time of the story. We meet a man who feels that he's made a mess of things but is unable to make it right. His own mistakes cripple him from confronting others', and despite having dark suspicions about certain people, he is unable to do anything concrete about it. But Hughes really tries. Through Hughes' perspective some light is shed on certain occurrences, and we're starting to form a fuller picture of everything that's going on under the surface in Tiger House.

Fittingly, the last focalizer is the ever silent and unnerving Ed. Ironically, in his segment Ed is unable to speak. But he is still able to reveal what is going on behind his blank facial expressions. The build-up is perfect, and until the very last pages we are holding our breaths for fear of what will happen. The tension is so high-strung you can feel it in the air of the house. And Ed's distanced way of seeing things keeps us on the edge until the very last.

Klaussmann has written an almost perfect novel. "Almost" because I want her to keep doing it. I love the retro nostalgia of the setting, the nod to The Great Gatsby, the skips in focalizer which keeps the tension, the perfectly timed revelations of past incidences, the fullness and complexities of the characters, which seem to add dimensions with each person's point of view... It is simply put one of those really good novels that I'll recommend to ANYONE.

Finally I want to make a comment about the title, which I did not know came from the Wallace Steven's poem "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock". The title is taken directly from the poem, and Klaussmann was inspired by the poem to write the book. The poem juxtaposes the ordinary vs. the extraordinary, and lack of imagination vs. a vivid imagination. I find this resonates well within the novel in several ways, and one could easily write an article exploring this. I would just like to say that Nick constantly strives for the extraordinary within her life as a "housewife". She wants to break free of her "place", but that does not always turn out for the best. I also feel that the poem suggests that everything is not always how it seems on the surface, and this is very true for Tiger House.

Read it and see the tigers prowling around the house at night, preying on each other.

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