Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Summer That Melted Everything Part I: Review

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel 
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Genres: Literary Fiction - Contemporary - Gothic


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.


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.  The Summer that Melted Everything is her debut novel. 

My Review:

 *I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Have you ever read a book where you just wonder how it was not an instant classic? Because holy hell is The Summer That Melted Everything one of those books!

"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?"

What a premise to start with. Autopsy Bliss, a lawyer in a conservative small town in Ohio, puts a call out in the newspaper asking for the devil to visit him. Why? We don't quite know yet, but what we do know is that a young black boy shows up claiming to be Him.

We've already got some kick ass characters. Autopsy of course is one hell of a name. Now I'm trying not to compare this book to To Kill A Mockingbird, because it is beautiful and unique in its own right, but I can't help seeing Autopsy Bliss as something of an inverted Atticus Finch. He's a lawyer and a father figure, so essentially the staple of all that is good, yet he is a very flawed man who quite literally asks for Hell to come knocking on his doorstep. 

Then you have the "hero," Fielding Bliss, who has somewhat of a traditional coming of age story save for the fact that the narration is interlaced with him as a miserable and crazed eighty-year-old man. Much of the tension of the novel is figuring out how the excitable and innocent boy-Fielding becomes the miserable man he is at the beginning of chapters.

On top of these two Bliss men, there's Stella, the agoraphobic mother who hasn't left the house in years, and Grand, the perfect baseball star older brother. But much in the way that everything is the opposite of what it seems, you get many ups and downs of these characters, and their journey is so thrilling that I don't want to ruin it here.
"I am not the ruler of hell. I am merely its first and most famous sufferer turned custodian with the key to the gate in my back pocket."

Most central of all, of course, is Sal, the Devil - or is he? At first Sal seems to be a runaway boy messing with people by responding to the ad, but as all possible explanations get chipped away as to his identity, it becomes more and more questionable if he is actually The Devil. He knows things of Hell, and of pain and anguish, that no twelve year old boy should, and in a town full of racism and bigotry, he has a grander perspective of humanity and goodness than even the wisest of men. 

"Are you asking me as a boy? Or as the devil?"
"As a boy, Sal. I'm askin' you as a boy."
"Then, yes. It is a sin."
"And what if I ask you as the devil?"
"I'd say no. It isn't a sin. And shouldn't the devil know more than a boy? Shouldn't a devil now all the things hell exists for?"

The central crux of Sal's character is just that: no one will listen to a boy, no matter how good or virtuous he may be, but they will listen to the king of all sinners. And why is that? 

I'm so hung up on the character and plot and how damn beautiful they are, but I don't want this review to ignore how insanely good the writing style is. With a heavy title like The Summer That Melted Everything and the religious implications of hellfire that holds, it's easy to think that the "heat" metaphor would be overdone, but far from it. The heat is constantly referenced as an excuse for why people are acting the way they are, for bringing out the worst actions of themselves and others. McDaniel herself cites her inspiration as living through an unbearable Ohio summer like Breathed's and she perfectly captures how such an environment just chips away at you. The whole story really breaks down to two types of people: those who can withstand the heat, and those who can't. And what separates one from the other? Why are Sal, the literal devil, and Stella, one of the most criticized people in town, able to come out better for it, while "good" people like Fielding and Grand are destroyed?

Do yourself two favors: one, check out my blog and read an interview with the lovely author Tiffany McDaniel. And two: start holding your breath for her next novel, because this woman is going to take the literary world by storm!

My Rating: 5/5!

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