Fielding Bliss is our narrator, he’s an old man when he spins us the tale of The Summer That Melted Everything. The story waffles from current day, his reflection back to his childhood and any other memory or event he deems relevant between those two moments of time. The summer he reflects back to is 1984 when he was 13 years old. The year his father, Autopsy Bliss,
invited the devil to Breathed, Ohio. The devil arrives along with heatwave like the town has never seen (both environmental and metaphorical). This heat proceeds to melt everything.
McDaniel is clever and cunning with her word choices throughout. If you are someone who loves words and twisted meanings and innuendos, the book is a puzzle of double-meaning and McDaniel is a mistress of metaphor. In some books, authors try to show their creativity by using odd character names or descriptions and it distracts from the story. McDaniel uses it to feed her story and it works.
As for the story, it begins seemingly a little funny, a little light-hearted even. An invitationto the devil in the local news paper. Then, the devil arrives, with eyes he says are green from the “leaves I took as a souvenir from The Garden of Eden.” He arrives indenim overalls where “the only spot not worn was the seat.” “If looks were to be believed he was still just a boy” of about Fielding’s own age with bowl and spoon and asks Fielding for ice cream. He is described by Fielding as “A boy whose black crayon would be the shortest in his box.”
The authorities are unable to determine his family and Sal settles in as the fifth member of the Bliss family, joining Fielding, his parents and older brother, Grand. Fielding and the devil, who decides on the name, “Sal” for the sake of having a name become friends. From there, this coil of coming of age meets noir novel begins to spiral and twist. It leads us to dark corners and shadows and it doesn’treturn. Strange events start happening in town and a fanatic fans flames of conspiracy and fear that drives the town to a point of no return, where everyone will be changed.
The novel explores prejudices, in all of its many shapes and forms. The book is tragic, emotional, moving, heart-breaking and painful. It’s a look into being human, our flaws and how they inform the decisions we make, the way we judge, and the things we’ll let ourselves believe or not.
I started reading the first pages of The Summer that Melted Everything during my walk back from the mailbox. I read three pages and wondered what I had gotten myself into. By the time I set it down again, I was 100-pages in and it was too late, it wouldn’t let me go. This debut novel is brilliant, dark and like a punch in the face. McDaniel has taken great care of the prose, the characters and the emotions. She’s an author that you’ll remember and a name you’ll see again. The novel is not a beach read, it’s deep, it’s raw, it takes a bit of patience, but the reward is sweet and memorable.
Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.