My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
Fielding Bliss is a 13-year-old boy living in Breathed, Ohio and working along Mr. Elohim repairing roofs and steeples. It’s 1984 and summer has made its presence clear in Breathed. Fielding’s father, Autopsy Bliss, is a respected lawyer who one day decides to write an invitation in the newspaper to ask the devil to visit their small town. Little did he know that the devil would answer his invitation bringing with him a heat wave along with devastating changes in the small community of Breathed but also the Bliss family.
A debut novel by Tiffany McDaniel that turned out to be a very promising start. This story is taking place during the summer months of 1984 in Breathed, Ohio and revolves around the Bliss family of four. It is also a story of the community of Breathed and the changes that a young black boy with bright green eyes who claims to be the devil, brings. It’s narrated in a first person perspective as we follow Fielding Bliss’ stream of consciousness and memories as an 80-year-old man. He is remembering and experiencing flashbacks of his childhood back in 1984 when he came upon this very thin boy who would soon change his life forever. Beware, this is not a fun, carefree coming-of-age story of two innocent boys who spend a life-changing summer and become men. This is a very dark story that came like a cool breeze into my head with a daring idea to go beyond the beautiful and the pretty to the ugly and the scary.
The heat came with the devil. It was the summer of 1984, and while the devil had been invited, the heat was not. It should’ve been expected, though. Heat it, after all, the devil’s name, and when’s the last time you left home without yours?
This book has a poetic, imaginative and very descriptive writing style including numerous beautiful quotes with a hint of black humour in the mix. For fans of literary fiction this is a book that you might want to check out. There are many references throughout the story of objects and concepts melting both figuratively and literally. There are also many instances in which the word “bliss” is included in the text which I perceived as erroneous since the appearance of the devil in Breathed was anything but a bliss. When reading this book, it is best to take your time and enjoy the ride. The Summer That Melted Everything promises a new talent of a writer that I definitely would like to read more from.
The lukewarm past had been overtaken by the scalding now. Gone was the perfect temperature. The breeze. All replaced by an almost violent heat that turned your bones into volcanoes, your blood into the lava that yelled their eruptions. Folks would later talk about that sudden onset of heat. It was their best evidence of the devil’s arrival.
My issues with this book have to do with the narration and sequencing of the plot events. While the plot is quite unique and I ended up really appreciating it, the story lost a lot of its brilliance during the unravelling of the plot. My explanation for this would be that this is a debut novel and so the lack of comfort in the movement of the plot was obvious. Specifically, in the beginning of the novel, Fielding meets the devil which takes the name ‘Sal’ for the rest of the story. After meeting Sal, Fielding takes him to meet his father Autopsy because, of course, he is the one who invited him. While walking to their home we meet a few of the neighbours. This sequence of events felt very repetitive to me and failed to engage me from the beginning to the story. Another factor that affected my reading experience was the number of horrific events that take place in the presence of Fielding and Sal. Without going into details about it, the fact that these events were so many made the story somewhat unrealistic and a little excessive. Finally, there is one more thing that I felt was missing from the plot and that is more of the Breathed people. I think that the story should have taken its time to unfold so we can get to know more of the townspeople and really feel part of the community. I think the cast of characters was somewhat small and while it was still a book that I enjoyed, i think that more pages, a slower pace and more people’s stories and random encounters would have really promised a savoury reading experience.
“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 snake that is no threat will greatly define the man who decides to kill it anyways.”
It is clear throughout the story that the author has a lot of brilliant ideas that she wanted to include in the story. This is wonderful and something that gives this book its uniqueness. Throughout the story, Sal, the boy who is the devil, is using allegories or short stories that he stars narrating in big monologues to the people that he is with during major events. While these stories that Sal has to say were all very interesting, engaging and meaningful, this was another part of the story that felt quite out-of-place to me. These allegories could have been incorporated better in the whole story.
“To be removed from flight is to be removed from the comet lines, the star-soaked song. How can I go on from that? How can I be something of value when I’ve lost my most valuable me? Land is my forever now, my thoroughly ended heaven. No sky will have me, no God either.”
One of the assets of this book lies with its characters. Fielding Bliss is a very lonely 80-year-old man who remembers his summer in 1984 as a young, impressionable, innocent boy. Sal is a mystery to everyone in the town including Fielding’s family. Autopsy Bliss (it’s strange to see the name Autopsy for a man since in Greek this is a “female” word) is a loving father with a big heart. Stella Bliss, the mother, never goes outside of the house anymore because she has an extreme phobia of rain. And Grand, the older brother, is a charismatic young man fighting his own battle. A few other people from the town who play important parts in the story like Mr. Elohim, Dresden (the neighbour girl), the Sheriff..A wonderful cast of characters and as I said before, I wish we had more of them!
It’s a gasoline betrayal when the romance of your lover becomes a separate energy from you. It lessens your significance as lover. As man.
Finally, I want to refer to everything in this book that I really appreciated while reading. It was surprising to me to see how many things I ended up appreciating in this story. First of all, Grand. I really enjoyed his character and everything he stands for. He was one of the many well-crafted and much-loved, by the author, characters that really helped the story take off. I appreciated the boldness of the story and its eagerness to break my heart as a reader. Yes, most stories, realistically speaking, don’t have a happy ending. Also, I don’t read book just to get my happy ending or to feel good about everything. I read a book that makes me feel. And I appreciate that this book made me feel. Finally, I appreciate (sorry for using this word constantly in lack of a different word) the shocking ending that I did not see coming. It is rare to find a book that you can’t tell what approximately is going to happen in the end. Well, I found one!
Pain is our most intimate encounter. It lives on the very inside of us, touching everything that makes us. It claims your bones, it masters your muscles, it reels in your strength, and you never see it again. The artistry of pain is its content. The horror of it is the same.
To finish this very long monologue, this was a fascinating debut novel to read. A new, original story with many elements that provoked welcomed emotions. Even though it does read like a first book and suffers some of the consequences of a shaky plot, it is a solid 3 star from me. I liked it, I enjoyed it, it shocked me and I want to read more from this talented author. If you enjoy darker plots, literary fiction or adult fiction in general check this one out.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. The wonderful art used in this review was created by the author Tiffany McDaniel. You can check out more about her, her novel and her watercolour designs on her: website http://www.tiffanymcdaniel.com/
I’m a BookDepository affiliate. If you want to buy a book online (free worldwide shipping) and you go through my links (below) I’ll get a small referral commission. Thank you very much for your support!
BookDepository: The Summer That Melted Everything