Expected publication: July 26th, 2016 by St. Martin’s Press
“What a housebound woman fears is not the knife in the kitchen drawer. It is the outside being better.“
Holy shit, this book is SO intense…“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 temperatures 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 wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.“This book is mostly set in the ’80’s.
I grew up in the ’80’s. I still love everything from the ’80’s: the music, the TV series, the movies. Probably because it all reminds me of my childhood, though. Everything regarding the ’80’s seems to be a big pink cloud of fluffiness in my memory. You know how old people say “Back in my time, everything used to be so much better!”. Heck, I already started saying that ten years ago, referring back to those wonderful ’80’s. This book was a massive wake-up call, making me remember again that it wasn’t all unicorns farting rainbows. Racism, when it comes to people with a different skin colour. Discrimination, when it comes to people who fall in love with someone from the same sex. Ignorance. AIDS. INTOLERANCE.
Obviously, this doesn’t simply restrict itself to the ’80’s. It’s just astounding how one can block out all of that darkness, and focus on the light as if the darkness never existed. Especially while it’s usually the other way around when it comes to human psychology! Only while (and after) reading this book, did I think again of movies such as Philadelphia (1993), which is inspired by the life of a real attorney who got fired after his employer found out he had AIDS in 1987.
Another movie, Boys Don’t Cry (1999) was based on a transgender man who was raped and murdered by two male acquaintances in December 1993. I can never watch either of these two movies without crying or balling my hands into fists.
“So what about the damn book, isn’t this supposed to be a review?!”, you might be thinking by now.
The Summer That Melted Everything felt like watching both of these movies, together with, let’s say, American History X. It touches those dark sides like nails scraping a chalkboard.
The story starts off and centres around Sal, a 13-year-old coloured boy with the greenest eyes, who claims he is the Devil himself. He has the scars to prove it, and a use of language which more suits an ancient zen master instead of a 13-year-old boy in frayed overalls. Add the fact that they can’t find the boy’s parents and hence, know shit all about his true identity, and you know it: there’s definitely something off about him.
Fielding Bliss, the actual protagonist, becomes best friends with this so-called Devil and strange things start to occur. Is it Sal’s fault? Or is it the smothering heat that has been pestering the town of Breathed ever since Sal made his first appearance there?
I didn’t know where this was all going, but I knew one thing: read on I must!
The story is claustrophobic, heart wrenching, and scary at times. Being confronted with the darkest corners of a human’s soul. The language, oh god, the language is so gut-punching and intensively spot on. It’s beautiful and poetic, but with none of that pretentious shit. It just is.
“What do you think he looks like?”
“Like a cotton swab, thin and white with too much hair on his head and too much hair on his feet. Wouldn’t that be funny? A cotton swab? Kind of makes ya think twice about stickin’ a Q-tip up your nose, don’t it? Though, thinking ’bout it now, maybe if we left a swab in our ear, we’d start behavin’ differently. Havin’ God inside our ear just might make us all, I don’t know, a little…more.”
“Also make you a little more dead with only one ear whose hearing is not sacrificed by a plug of cotton.“
You kind of know a little about what’s going to happen because the story is being told by Fielding as an 80+-year-old, yet you still don’t know anything at all.
The characters are all extremely well developed, each of them struggling with their own demons and angels. Some of them quite dysfunctional like the vegetarian dwarf with vampire teeth, bearing the name of Elohim, the Hebrew word for ‘gods’ or ‘deity’.
“We are told it’s a cross, so surely it must be a cross. But what if it isn’t? What if we’re wrong? What if this whole time we’ve just been hanging lowercased t’s on our walls?“
Every time I picture Elohim, I have to think of this scene from Twin Peaks (and not just because they are both little people!): While I was reading, I kept feeling like this wasn’t a new book, let alone a book that still needs to be published next week. It wasn’t because of the going back into history; it was because this book feels like it’s a classic. And I think that in 10-20 years from now (I don’t know how much time it takes for a book to be allowed to be called a classic) this book should be considered as one. It should be up there with John Steinbeck and J.D.Salinger. THAT’s how good it is. And let’s not forget this is a fucking debut novel, making it even more impressive!
It’s why it’s definitely getting five brownies from me. It won’t be a book for the tender soul; if you’re expecting a YA plotline, there isn’t one. It’s a deep search into the soul (or spirit as Pearl Kirkby recently reminded me), religion, and all that’s yin and yang. Every chapter opens with a quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost. If you’ve read the poem, you know what kind of story you can expect of The Summer That Melted Everything…
As a final note: there’s also a touch of magical realism to the story, which is something that usually annoys me to no end, yet in this book, it works bloody brilliantly.
A big thank you to Tiffany McDaniel for providing me with a copy of her book in exchange for an honest opinion! I’m hoping to do a Q&A with her somewhere around the publication date, so stay tuned!
Links to the book: