Title: The Summer That Melted Everything
Author: Tiffany McDaniel
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
Format: Print copy
My rating: 5/5
When local prosecutor Autopsy Bliss publishes an invitation to the devil to come to the country town of Breathed, Ohio, nobody quite expected that he would turn up. They especially didn’t expect him to turn up a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy.
Fielding, the son of Autopsy, finds the boy outside the courthouse and brings him home, and he is welcomed into the Bliss family. The Blisses believe the boy, who calls himself Sal, is a runaway from a nearby farm town. Then, as a series of strange incidents implicate Sal — and riled by the feverish heatwave baking the town from the inside out — there are some around town who start to believe that maybe Sal is exactly who he claims to be.
But whether he’s a traumatised child or the devil incarnate, Sal is certainly one strange fruit: he talks in riddles, his uncanny knowledge and understanding reaches far outside the realm of a normal child — and ultimately his eerily affecting stories of Heaven, Hell, and earth will mesmerise and enflame the entire town.
This was definitely not the story I was expecting but I am pleasantly surprised despite how dark it was. I was able to meet the author, Tiffany McDaniel, at the Cincinnati Books on the Banks event years ago and am now getting to her debut novel. Wow… It definitely packs a punch and has the most beautiful metaphors and life lessons that I didn’t know could be put into words. I was challenged in so many ways for the better and had many post-it notes adhered to the pages with things I had not thought OF or resonated so deeply. For this review, I’ll go into note-worthy quotations and my personal reflections.
It’s a waste of time to live better when you’ve got no one to care for and no one to care you (McDaniel 29)
Referring to the main character, Fielding Bliss, in the future, he is not in a great mental state. I feel these types of thoughts align with depression and mental health. There are times when we may feel not as engaged as we normally are, checked out, and disinterested in basic things – potentially if we push others away to protect ourselves or them.
What a housebound woman fears is not the knife in the kitchen drawer. It is the outside being better (McDaniel 145)
Fielding’s mom has not left the house in over 10 years due to a traumatizing incident with her parents in a car crash when she was younger. There is a fear instilled not only with this event but also with changes to the normal. When I am comfortable, it is challenging for me to make that next step, even though I realize that so much good can be on the other side. However, I remain oblivious and ignorant because I don’t want to know how much everyone else may be enjoying what’s there – kind of like social media and people posting their best lives. If I don’t look, it doesn’t exist.
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 contact. The horror of it is the same (McDaniel 187)
And thus I am pain in every inch of my mind, in every inch of my body. I am the endless flailing, the endless falling, the endless story of what happens to a man who cannot let go (McDaniel 188)
After attending both of his parents’ funerals years after this eventful summer, understandably, Fielding is in great pain. Whatever causes us pain in the world can have these effects all over the body. It is astounding to me that it can be felt mentally and physically, sometimes hurting more than an injury. I would love to understand the psychology of this emotion and why it affects us so.
‘You forget it is the camera we smile at, not the life behind’ (McDaniel 196)
Such a simple statement but one that rings true in a lot of situations. Not only when we smile for a camera do we put up a facade but when we hold things close to the chest and bottle it up – it’s not real. As an INFJ, I struggle with this constantly, not wanting to burden those with what is really going on in my mind, so I just put on a brave face until I have worked through everything on my own if I can.
‘That’s the problem of broken things. The light dies in small ways, and the shadows—well, they always win big in the end’ (McDaniel 197)
Try as we might to rid ourselves of problems by shattering them or exploding, however there is more darkness that can come than light.
‘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’ve ever wanted, Fielding. To matter.’ (McDaniel 225)
What we are all mostly looking for: belonging, connection, approval, acceptance. In the dark, even when we sleep, these desires are easily attainable. How to make them real is something entirely different.
Read The Summer That Melted Everything if you like the themes of:
- Mental health
- Identity development
- Good vs. evil
What was the last book that challenged you more than you thought?