Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Tweet:  An extraordinary, multi-layered novel of observations, misperceptions and long-buried truths.  This is storytelling at its best.

     Tigers in Red Weather is a haunting tale of desire and disappointments, observations and misperceptions, and the painful acknowledging of long buried truths.  Told from five distinct perspectives over the course of two decades, Liza Klaussmann unpacks the multilayered story of two cousins and their families as they navigate marriage, raise children, and come to terms with an horrific murder on Martha's Vineyard, the site of their shared summer home.  Ms. Klaussmann writes with exceptional skill and depth, as each character adds his or her recollections of a common set of events.  By the end of the novel, when the final layering is complete, we truly appreciate her extraordinary gift of storytelling.

     The novel's foundation layer begins in 1947 with Nick, a young woman who is impulsive and spontaneous, and longs to be "special, discrete."  She comes to realize that Hughes, her husband with whom she is passionately in love, came back from the war a different man.  He is careful and deliberate and emotionally distant, and Nick must decide whether to bury her true nature to keep her husband.  This is the only chapter that does not allude to the novel's seminal event, finding a body near their summer home, perhaps because revealing Nick's true self in subsequent sections propels the novel forward as much as the murder.

     The next chapters tell the family's story from four distinct and imperfect views.  Daisy, Nick's daughter, is twelve at her section's outset.  Events and characters are filtered through the eyes of a determined adolescent who sees but does not fully comprehend adult subjects.  Helena, Nick's cousin, tells her story through a fog of alcohol and resentment.  Hughes views events from an emotional distance because he hides from intimacy and desire.  The final section belongs to Ed, Helena's son, who spends his days carefully spying on others (disguised as "research") and who sees events clearly but, like a person on the autism spectrum, is unable to process underlying meanings.  Each character's narrative on its own is incomplete, but as the reader moves from one view to the next, we can put together the pieces and ferret out their nuances until we realize the family's ultimate horror.

     The title, Tigers in Red Weather, is a line from the Wallace Stevens poem "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock."  Stevens is known for exploring the relationship between imagination and reality.  He once wrote, "Reality is not what is.  It consists of the many realities which it can be made into."  Klaussmann has masterfully woven together the many realities of her characters to create a unified tale, and because each character is blind to the realities of the others, only the reader can see the whole and tragic story. 

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