This debut novel from Liza Klaussman, published last year, is newly out in paperback, providing the perfect opportunity to taste the emotional frustrations of East Coast Americans in the 1950s. Guest reviewer and Book Club member Catherine Hale introduces the novel and hints at some of the tensions that arose when put it was put under the microscope…
- 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.
When is a light read not a light read? This seemed to be an underlying question that bubbled slowly during this month’s book club meeting after reading Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann. The novel takes its name from the last words in Wallace Steven’s poem ‘Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock’ which contrasts the blandness of ordinary lives with the vividness of an old sailor’s life born of a wealth of experience and a rich imagination.
Against the background of sultry summer evenings on the East coast of post-war America, outwardly shiny lives are tainted with disillusionment. Quiet daydreamed moments are interrupted as a heady atmosphere builds and then there follows a subtle infection of the moment with talk of a murder, a husband left looking for his wife at a party, the popping of another pill.
Five sections of the book tell the stories of five characters; Nick, Helena, Hughes, Daisy and Ed, but they cleverly don’t simply go over the same ground with a different voice. Each has its own time frame with overlaps that allows the reader to inhabit a character’s life from a different standpoint.
Nick is at the heart of the story; devoted to, but exasperated by her cousin Helena, conscious of the lack of romance in her life with her husband Hughes, vying with her daughter Daisy for a boyfriend’s attention and increasingly watched by Helena’s son Ed.
References to Mad Men, Revolutionary Road and The Great Gatsby, at our meeting, reflected the sense of place and atmosphere created by the minimalist writing style charged with emotionally resonant undertones. The shifting layers of the discussion mirrored those of the narrative. A murder changes everything. A character is conspicuous by his absence, which reinforces the emotional absence from his wife and son and the final story unfettered by convention and social mores throws up yet another perspective to grapple with.
And so by 11.30 on a damp night in rural Oxfordshire, an apparently light read had become a slightly heavier read; something beyond the familiar tale of domestic disappointment, something far more chilling and universal in it’s examination of dreams, secrets and unfulfilled lives.
Amazon Link: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann
Paperback publisher: Picador (9 May 2013)