Tigers in Red Weather, Liza Klaussmann’s debut novel, revolves around a family trying to piece their lives together in the aftermath of World War II. Nick and her cousin Helena head off to meet their prospective young husbands after the end of the war with high expectations of what their new lives will bring—but each woman learns that married life is not what she had dreamed. Years later, their children discover a murder that uncovers painful secrets, threatening their relationships and even their lives. In the Tiger House, nothing is as it seems.
Klaussmann, who is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, responds to comparisons between her book and The Great Gatsby and explains why literary genius does not run in the blood.
Tigers in Red Weather begins immediately after World War II and explores the lingering effects of war in both soldiers and family members. What is interesting to you about this time period?
I think the tension between what people experienced during the War years—violence, discovery, loneliness, loss, all to an extreme—and what they were expected to experience directly afterward—contentment, prosperity and, above all, a return to so-called normalcy—is fascinating. It creates a natural barrier to exploration.
The novel is set mostly on Martha’s Vineyard, where you spent your childhood summers. What is your fondest memory from the Vineyard?
I can remember being six or seven and sitting in a hot bath after a long day at the beach and licking my knee and tasting the salt on it. It was delicious.
Do you have a favorite scene from the novel?
I happen to be partial to the scene in the Reading Room in the Ed section, where he describes this sort of Diane-Arbus-like situation where weird is normal and normal is weird.
Your work has been compared to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Tigers in Red Weather includes character names (Nick, Daisy) that pay homage to the famous author. What do you think of the comparison? What other authors inspire you?
I think it is far too generous. Obviously, the names are a hat-tip to Fitzgerald, because I love him. And I also liked how he apparently named Daisy Buchanan as a hat-tip to Henry James’s Daisy Miller. But I am also massively inspired by Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Chandler, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood . . . the list goes on.
I don’t really believe in this idea of blood carrying the seeds of genius. I think the reality is much more prosaic.
Your great-great-great grandfather was Herman Melville. Would you say that writing is in your blood? Has your ancestry had an impact on you as a writer?
I don’t really believe in this idea of blood carrying the seeds of genius. I think the reality is much more prosaic; because we had this very famous author in our family, our family revered books and I grew up valuing stories—all stories, but especially the written kind—and therefore aspired to the craft.
What was your reaction when you found out your first book would be published?
I was thrilled. When I found out that there were several publishers interested in buying it, I was on Martha’s Vineyard and it was 11 o’clock in the morning and my brother and I opened a bottle of champagne and proceeded to drink it, very quickly, and then open another, because one is never really enough.
I understand that your next book takes place in 1920s France. Can you tell us about the main characters in this book?
It is based on the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, who were at the center of a certain literary and artistic group of expatriates in France in the 1920s. They had a luminous, but ultimately tragic life.
What was the last great book you read?
I’ve read a lot of very, very good books recently, but the last GREAT book I read was The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver.