Cousins Nick and Helena have grown up together, spending long, hot summers on Tiger Island. Having themselves become wives and mothers, these summer trips remain a yearly tradition.
Captivating and enticing, Nick is also volatile, selfish and unpredictable, her marriage is troubled by secrets and things left unsaid. By contrast, Helen has always been the quieter of the two, the one more willing to bend to Nick’s will. But in the heat of the summers, long buried resentments, jealousies and frustrations are quick to come to the surface. Through the decades, a storm is brewing that threatens to destroy everything and to test the ties of family, love and duty to their absolute limit.
I really liked the way this book was written. The author manages to evoke an impression of life in post war America beautifully, and the heat and oppression of the long summer days are conjured up so vividly they are like a separate character all on their own.
However, for me it felt like this book was more style over substance. The narrative structure flits around between different times and different characters a lot, causing the story to lose momentum and stall. I found it took me away from one thread just when I was starting to get into it and wanting to know more. There’s also a lot of time dedicated to exploring the more mundane details of daily life, which I could have done without. It might have worked better if Klaussmann had focused more on just a few time periods, getting more of an in-depth look into all of the different characters and leaving less up to interpretation and insinuation.
I was also a little disappointed by the ending. For all the build-up that we go through and the time that the author has invested in showing us how the characters are coming to their breaking point, I would have liked to have seen more of a resolution at the end. It felt abrupt and a bit of a let-down.
The idea of the dysfunctional upper-middle class American family is remains a popular literary topic. Klaussman makes multiple allusions to Fitzgerald’s ‘Great Gatsby’ throughout, and it plays on a certain fascination with the elite, of bored socialites with banker husbands, a summer house on Martha’s Vineyard and days filled by boat trips and barbeques. E. Lockhart’s ‘We Were Liars’ is very much in the same vein, but in my opinion did it better. It incorporates many of the same elements – family rivalry, the cover up of a crime and difficult relationships between parents and their children – but packs more of a punch.
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