I received The Summer That Melted Everything in exchange for an honest review
Check back here tomorrow for an interview with the author to coincide with the US release!
Dear Mr. Devil, Sir Satan, Lord Lucifer, and all other crosses you bear,
I cordially invited you to Breathed, Ohio. Land of hills and hay bales, of sinners and forgivers.
May you come in peace.
With great faith,
Despite the intriguing, unusual premise I don’t know if I’d have picked this novel of my own accord, but the author approached me directly and I’m so glad I took a chance on this. It’s definitely one of the most unique, thought-provoking novels released this year.
It all starts with a letter placed by lawyer Autopsy Bliss in his local newspaper inviting the devil to town. That town is Breathed, a fictional town set in Ohio during the summer of 1984. Frustrated with the evil and moral dilemmas he often sees in court, Autopsy proclaims he ‘wants to see for himself’. He doesn’t expect the ‘devil’ to present itself in the form of a thirteen-year-old boy.
But that’s what happens. Following the advert, Autopsy’s son, Fielding, encounters a mysterious boy who claims to be the devil. With nowhere else for the child to go, and with Autopsy feeling a certain sense of responsibility for placing the advert, it’s decided that the boy will stay with the Bliss family for the time being.
Over that fateful summer, the heat is stifling and the small-minded nature of the small town adds to the sense of oppression. The mysterious boy who goes by the name of Sal (because it’s “the beginning of Satan and the first step into Lucifer. Sa-L.”) is black, and the concept of this child from out of town claiming to be the devil is a little too much for some of the small-town folk to handle.
The story is narrated by Fielding looking back as an elderly man, and the contrast between the naivety of his youth and the curmudgeonly, bitter old man who narrates the tale is stark. It prompts the reader to wonder what could have happened to make the man and the boy such worlds apart. What happened that summer to leave such an indelible mark on his character, such a gaping rift in his life?
Tiffany McDaniel gradually reveals the answers to that through her lush, lyrical prose, packed with metaphor and multiple meanings. To me, the story felt reminiscent To Kill A Mockingbird – a stifling hot American summer in a bygone era, a young protagonist and a host of controversial topics sensitively explored including race, sexuality and HIV. There’s even a father figure who appears to be the pillar of integrity – as Sal puts it “I’ve never met a better man than your father. Compared to him, it’s as if all other men are homeless dogs that bed in the mud.”
Like with that classic, it’s difficult to do such a complex, multi-layered tale justice simply by summarising the plot. Whilst the main plot may centre around the ‘devil’, this book is much more a story about humanity, and an exploration of the devil in all of us. Devil or not, Sal is certainly wise beyond his years and his presence over that summer opens the Bliss family’s eyes. For me, this beautiful, bizarre, multi-layered fable has the makings of a future classic.
If you like the sound of this novel, find out more about the book and the author in a Q & A session with Tiffany McDaniel
Thanks to St Martin’s Press and Tiffany McDaniel for providing me with a digital copy of this novel
Release date: July 26th 2016 (US) / 11th August 2016 (UK)