“Don’tcha wanta live forever?”
“I’m the devil. I am already forever.”
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year his father, Autopsy Bliss, invited Breathed’s own devil.
“Dear Mr. Devil, Sir Satan, Lord Lucifer, and all other crosses you bear,
I cordially invite you to Breathed, Ohio. Land of hills and hay bales, of sinners and forgivers.
May you come in peace.
With great faith,
And on a particularly warm day in June 1984 (side note: I love it when a book is set in the same month period as when I’m reading it), our main character meets the devil.
“Are you sayin’ that you’re the devil?”
“It is not my first name, but it is one of them.” He reached down to scratch his thigh. It was then I noticed the denim was worn at the knees more than anywhere else. Over top the wear were layers of dirt, as if kneeling were all the time for him.
“You’re lyin’.” I searched his head for horns. “You’re just a boy.”
His fingers twitched. “I was once, if that counts.”
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation.
To say that this book has a unique premise is an understatement. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I simply loved every second I spent reading The Summer That Melted Everything.
I definitely took my time with this book in order to savor each and every word. It all felt so crucial to the flow of the story.
I also have to mention the writing, but I feel like no words of mine will do enough justice to capture its beauty. Tiffany McDaniel created such an atmospheric, eerie and whimsical read— I’m seriously at a loss for words.
Here’s one instance in particular that captures the writing perfectly:
“I cleared my throat and introduced the boy by naming him the devil.
“Fielding, I didn’t quite hear you correctly.”
“I said devil, all right.” I shifted the bag of groceries to my other arm as Elohim drew down the porch steps, slow and at a slant like he was walking in a large gown that he had to be careful not to step on the edge of lest he fall.”
That last sentence has just such a wonderfully specific description.
Also, I loved how clever it was that the neighbor’s name was Grayson Elohim (‘Elohim’ in Hebrew).
And I really want to mention another instance I loved, because I’m weak, and the writer’s words are magnificent:
“The days … they’ve been blurring together.”
“Just hang a calendar on your wall.”
“The walls of hell are not like other walls. I tore a picture of the ocean out from a magazine and hung it on my wall once. An ocean is a good life place. Everyone always seems happy there. And for a moment, I was happy with my picture, but then the blue sky turned gray. The waves, once calm, took a turn to rage. Then came the screams. As I looked closer, I saw the screams came from men drowning in the water.”
How does one make words work this beautifully???
Also also, the familial relationships in this book were spectacular. I kept wanting to delve deeper and know more about each family member— and it all started with the grandma (whom I loved), she was such a unique addition:
“Autopsy is an acutely strange name for a man to have, but his mother was an acutely strange woman. Even more, she was an acutely strange religious woman who used the Bible as a stethoscope to hear the pulse of the devil in the world around her.
The sounds could be anything: The wind knocking over a tin can. The clicking of rain on the windowpane. The erratic heartbeat of a jogger passing by. Sometimes the things we believe we hear are really just our own shifting needs. Grandmother needed to hear the spook of the snake so she could better believe it actually existed.”
And her son (Fielding’s father) was just as compelling to read about:
“I always thought he had too demanding a job for someone like him. We are all sensitive to a degree when it comes to the great terrible things in the world, but he was torn apart by them.
Some cases affected him more than others, like the one with the little girl who was beaten to death by her addict parents. He’d stare at those bloody crime photos over and over again, long after he put the parents away. Then one day he said he was going out.
He drove a few miles outside of Breathed to a roadside bar and said the types of things you should never say to a biker gang. He was in the hospital for six weeks. When I asked him why he did it, he used his one good hand to write I wanted to see for myself on a pad of paper because his mouth was wired shut.
His jaw would heal, as would his swollen eyes, cracked ribs, and broken kneecap. The bruises would go on their way, the blood would stop lifting to the surface, and his arm would eventually come out of that cast. But he’d still have the scar at his hairline where the beer bottle was broke. He never tried to hide this scar. He’d brush his thick brown hair back so there’d be no chance of not seeing it. He did just this as he strolled between me and the boy.”
I keep thinking about this part. The “I wanted to see for myself” gets me every time.
I’ve never encountered such a dynamic father figure in a novel before this one. To borrow Sal’s phrasing, “Compared to him, it’s as if all other men are homeless dogs that bed in the mud.”
And his quintessential wife (Fielding’s mother), Stella, was that more intriguing.
“If you wanta see her, you’ll have to go to her. Porch is the farthest she’ll come.”
“She’s afraid of the rain.”
“It’s not raining.”
“Naw, but it might start.”
“She had that tendency to be overaffectionate. It was almost like a nervous tic. It was the staying in the house that did it. She thought if she loved you enough, you’d never want to leave her, and then the house wouldn’t seem so lonely as it could be to her at times, when it was just her and the vacuum.”
And their oldest son, Grand (Fielding’s brother), was the very meaning of his name.
“Something about his eyes made me think of Russia. Perhaps because they were so large, the largest country in the world of his face. Then again, knowing what I know now, maybe it was because his eyes were so like matryoshka dolls, hiding the real him within boxes of lacquered mystery. You’d open one box and find another just the same. No matter how many boxes you took away, there was always one more.
Because I told him his eyes were Russian, he decided to learn the language and would at the most unexpected times drop Russian words in a saline accent Tolstoy would have praised, for an Ohioan at least.”
I just love it when books feature close siblings and Fielding was, as he mentioned, as in love with his older brother as any young boy could be.
The whole family gave off such an incredibly intimate feel and leaving me, once again, at a loss of words.
However, when the focus shifted from the family and instead refocused on the devil and the mystery surrounding his crimes, I felt a tiny bit let down. I personally felt more invested in the Bliss’ lives than in the conundrum that is the devil.
“Being the devil made him a target, but it also meant he had a power he didn’t have when he was just a boy. People looked at him, listened to what he said. 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?”
But with an unbearable heat wave in town, tensions rise and strange accidents start to occur that put the Bliss family head to head with their own personal demons.
Common sense was starting to melt away.
“People always ask, Why does God allow suffering? Why does He allow a child to be beaten? A woman to cry? A holocaust to happen? A good dog to die painfully? Simple truth is, He wants to see for Himself what we’ll do. He’s stood up the candle, put the devil at the wick, and now He wants to see if we blow it out or let it burn down. God is suffering’s biggest spectator.”
The above passage has been integrated into my heart because of its beauty and understanding.
Just… everything was told in such an astonishingly vivid way. Seriously, the amount of quotes I’ve written down from the book into my own notes is a tad excessive.
Simply put, I didn’t want this book to come to an end— so much so that I even reread the first chapter. And now I cannot wait for what Tiffany McDaniel will write next.
ARC kindly provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
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