Title: The Summer the Melted Everything
Author: Tiffany McDaniel
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Date Published: July 26, 2016
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
“(…) a lyrical and powerful novel about good, evil, and the devil himself. (…) McDaniel’s writing is beautiful. Never before have I highlighted so many quotes in a novel. (…) I can say with certainty that it is one of my favorite literary novels that I’ve read. The setting is vivid, the characters step off of the page, and the writing is simply perfect. This book is as sticky as skin in the Ohio heat of 1984, and I’m still pulling pieces of this story off of me. It’s a novel I’m unlikely to forget.”—The Bandar Blog
“Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything is a wonderfully original, profoundly unsettling, deeply moving novel that delivers both the shock of a fully realized reality and the deep resonance of parable. This is a remarkable debut by a splendid young writer.”—Robert Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“A fantastic Jackson-esque debut about rumors, fears, and beliefs.”—BOOKRIOT
“Literary gold, the sentences and writing was often strange but beautiful. The story itself is unusual and I felt a little of what the town experienced with Sal’s presence. Heartbreaking, horrible, loving, such a strange sad mixture of emotions evoked by a book with a strange title. The title makes sense at the end! I am going to recommend this novel like crazy.”—Bookstalker
“This book is literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and some horror elements thrown in for good measure and it is like nothing I have read before! (…) In less talented hands, this could have just been a mess of too much going on but the way that McDaniel weaves everything together creates a story that is truly unique and so powerful.”—A Bookish Affair
2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction
2016 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Author
“A snake that could harm you, you don’t have much choice to kill. You wouldn’t be able to leave a cobra in your sock drawer. But a snake that is no threat will greatly define the man who decides to kill it anyways.”
In the summer of 1984 in Breathed, Ohio, Autopsy Bliss puts an ad in the paper inviting the devil to town. When Sal arrives, claiming he is the devil no one believes him, but Sal’s arrival coincides with the arrival of overwhelming heat and as bad things start happening around town people begin to blame thirteen-year-old Sal. While Sal is young, he is, also, African American and prejudice in the 1980’s underlined much of life. Mob mentality hits the town after tragedy befalls an expectant mother and a college bound runner, Sal becomes the target of hate and even the Bliss family can’t keep the hate at bay.
“Being the devil made him important. Made him visible. And isn’t that the biggest tragedy of all? When a boy has to be the devil in order to be significant?”
The heat is almost its own character, oppressive in its weight and stifling in the way it draws the life and hope out of the air, allowing intolerance in. Heroes become villains as the people who can’t survive the heat are destroyed by the summer. Through it all you see that everyone is striving towards the same goal of being loved and belonging. Some have to hide their longing to find love, some have to search for it, and some seek vengeance or penance for its loss.
“You can imagine anything you want in the dark. You can imagine your father loves you, you can imagine your mother is not disappointed, you can imagine that you are…significant. That you mean somethin’ to someone. That’s all I ever wanted, Fielding. To matter. That is all I’ve ever wanted.”
All of the characters are complex and beautifully written with flaws that ring true. Autopsy is a lawyer whose belief in the law has been tested in recent cases. He seeks out the devil to assuage his guilt over recent rulings. Fielding Bliss undergoes a coming of age story interwoven with the thoughts of his eighty-year-old self. The young Fielding is innocent and excited about life, but the elder Fielding is wretched and miserable; watching him undergo this change is remarkable. The book centers around Fielding’s family including Sal, his best friend and foster brother. Sal is tragedy exemplified. He is ignored as a boy, but destroyed as the devil. While Sal is Fielding’s best friend the friendship is strained when Stella, Fielding’s agoraphobic mother, welcomes and cares for him. Once Dresden, the neighbor girl, also, chooses Sal over Fielding, his emotional wellbeing spirals out of control. Combined with his newly tense relationship with Grand, his brother he had up on a pedestal before his secrets leaked out, and Fielding is on a collision course for his despondent future self. Add to this a town full of angry neighbors led by Elohim, the bitter leader of the rabble, who preaches that someone else is always to blame for the misfortunes stacked upon the people and common sense will dissert everyone, as hate begets hate.
“I learned at that moment that the devil, the true one, is people…”
The writing was beautiful, evocative of a hot summer’s day, lyrical and poetic. The imagery is sure to transport you to the 1980’s straight to Ohio, where the dialogue is honest and the stories are true. Combining multiple storylines, this intricate and engaging novel tells a story that is bleak and painful. A truly thought provoking masterpiece, highly recommended.
“I shot all the bad, but damn it all, I shot all the good as well. That’s something you never quite come back from. That’s something that’s a fresh pain every day.”
Note: I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review
About the Author:
An Ohio native, Tiffany McDaniel’s writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. She is also a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist. She is the winner of the Not-the-Booker Prize for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, which was a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee.