I first found out about this book in ElCicco’s review, and as well as the plot summary, I was struck by both the title and the cover – it evoked F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath’s Journals and all sorts of vague images of post-war Americana. The UK cover is a bit different , but still nice enough for me to succumb to buying the book brand new in hardcover, which I am usually far too broke to do.
The title of Tigers in Red Weather, taken from a Wallace Stevens poem (randomly alluded to in the text), is oddly fitting for this tale of the teeth behind affectionate family smiles. Nick is a strong and strangely beautiful woman, married to Hughes who she barely knew before the war – both are deeply in love but tempted elsewhere. Helena is her cousin, also married to a man she hardly knows, who promises to take care of her and does it by encouraging her to take “mother’s little helper” tranquillizers and amphetamines. Nick’s daughter Daisy (Gatsby reference?) is golden and unhappy in love, Helena’s son Ed is an aloof observer, warped by his father. Their holiday paradise on Martha’s Vineyard is disturbed by a murder, and suggestions that one of the family may have been involved on some level.
Most of the book I really enjoyed – Nick is a charming and well-drawn character, even if she isn’t particularly original – she’s basically Daisy from The Great Gatsby grown up, after a war that’s scarred her but lightly. Her fraught, fragile moments, however, are evocative, and as is her struggle to love the man she’s with. Her daughter is also naive, fond, foolish – her agonies of first love are very relatable. The other side of the family doesn’t fare as well; Helena is quite uninteresting and often exasperating, and her son seems like he crept in from another novel entirely.
Nick, her husband Hughes, Daisy, Helena and Ed each have their own chapter. Ed’s chapter is the most jarring; he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the chapters. I suspect his chapter is supposed to show the others up in sharp relief, causing us to re-evaluate everything else, and it probably symbolises all sorts of things, but to me it just felt…cheap and unnecessary. It kind of dampened my enjoyment of the whole book, which is generally well-written, particularly with regard to atmosphere – the clinking of ice and cigarette smoke form a constant low-tempo background to the plot. It will be interesting to see what Klaussmann writes next.