In prose as clear as the crystal vodka tumblers that Hughes Derringer shakes, Klausmann explores the evolution of love within marital relationships from the perspective of the 1950s. Her shallow characters acquire surprising depth and become partners in a series of failed romantic enterprises, their lives threatened by the joys and sorrows of finding new love in a setting where the oddness of love can sometimes linger and, in many cases, end.
the social and sexual textures of postwar America, Klausmann's two central characters, beautiful Nick and emotionally brittle Helena, determine to push aside the tides of history and put the world right on its axis again. Helena is about to move to Los Angeles to marry Hollywood producer Avery Lewis.
This "strange, mad dash to get married again" makes Helena talk wistfully of Martha's Vineyard and the cousins' childhood home, Tiger House, with its airy, delightful rooms and lovely expanse of green lawn.
Fresh from her life of “houses, husbands and midnight gin parties,” Nick is preparing to travel to St. Augustine, where she can’t wait to reconnect with her beloved Hughes.
But even with his honey-blond hair and elegant hands, Hughes doesn’t seem to be fulfilling Nick’s basic needs in this place full of "streamlined women with intelligent eyes like bullet trains." While a wartime affair drives much of Hughes’ destructive pattern of illusion and reality, there’s still
the sense that for Nick everything is new, just waiting to be discovered.
The consistent underlying journey of female friendships both old and new is a large component of the story. Amid all of the cigarette smoking and martini drinking
lies a feeling of animosity and cold punishment. Desperate for cash, Helena--or, more precisely, Avery--wants Nick to sell Tiger House. Like a creaky door with its hinges finally greased, this incident leaves Nick wondering how well she really knows her cousin’s heart and gives voice to Helena's feelings that
began in the maid’s room of her mother’s the day she married.
Nick’s concern for keeping up marital appearances with Hughes, retaining a sense of etiquette in Tiger House, and finding a life for her daughter, Daisy--an avid tennis player--are counterbalanced with Helena’s narcissistic drug abuse
(“the small, yellow pills, like heavy golden opiate are like sugar in the blood”)
and the creepy benevolence of Helena’s son, Ed. Hughes considers him “a snot-nosed jerk” because he likes to spy outdoors and slink around Tiger House, listening to family arguments while silently judging Nick.
The murder of a Portuguese maid employed by a neighboring family frames the story, increasing the Derringer family's certain smug comeuppance. Strangled and left to rot, her death propels a family
in a state of decay, though Hughes is of the opinion that the summer will continue regardless of whether “some lunatic chose to garrote a maid.” Klausmann writes of this murder from varying perspectives, and the passages where Nick, Helena, and Hughes find solace in drinking reinforce the tone of a family trapped in a destructive, claustrophobic pattern. Hughes’ frustrations are a touchpoint for anyone feeling blinded by obligation; Nick is a rich character, steeped in the reality of her loneliness
yet also in denial about Daisy’s impending marriage to handsome Tyler Pierce; and Helena is the perennial victim of her own follies,
unable to summon the strength to break her dependency on them.
In a lyrical and acerbic style that underscores the black moods, the sense of dark destiny, and the psychologically somber compulsions of the characters, Klaussmann’s sad but brilliant commentary on this repressed affluent WASP family resounds with great compassion and poignancy but also at times disgusts
thanks to the relevance of the Derringers' selfish and irresponsible desires.