During the summer of 1984 in Breathed, Ohio, Autopsy Bliss invites the devil to town—and the devil actually shows up in the guise of an African American boy named Sal. Sal is befriended by Fielding Bliss, Autopsy’s youngest son and narrator of Tiffany McDaniel’s debut novel, The Summer That Melted Everything.
When I picked up this innocent-looking book, I had no idea I was about to be emotionally destroyed and equally gobsmacked by the quality of writing. McDaniel’s prose is like warm maple syrup on a rainy day. Some sentences made me literally ache with their beauty.
So why, oh why, did I one night wake my husband from a sound slumber by sobbing my face off? It’s been a long time since something so beautiful, so poetic, broke me into such little, scorched pieces, like torn paper in the wind. There is horror in the beauty, and although I now consider The Summer That Melted Everything one of my favorite books, I am cautious in my recommendation to others as it requires strength to accept this journey.
Summer is an important book in that it questions faith and how we perceive good versus evil. It’s important as an example of excellent literature. Summer is romantic in a strange, off-putting sort of way, and Sal’s monologues are worthy of a stage play.
And yet, there are scenes (two in particular) I can’t even think about without feeling my heart break all over again. If the writing were shit, these scenes would be simpler to overlook, but since McDaniel is a master of imagery, the emotional moments in Summer resonate with the painful toll of a funeral hymn.
We’re left asking: what power does the devil really have? What does God allow him, and how good is God anyway? Are all the catastrophes in Ohio (and the tragedy of Fielding’s life) really Sal’s fault? Is that what the devil does—his mere presence causes destruction—or is the devil in all of us, just waiting to stop by for a visit? Is Sal even the devil anyway?
I need you to understand: this book is worthy of awards. If this debut is any indication, Tiffany McDaniel’s work will one day be studied in colleges across the country. However, I suggest Summer to you at your own peril. I will keep the book forever on my crowded bookshelf as a sort of idol, but I will never read it again. I can’t go back to Breathed, Ohio, but maybe you can visit if you have the fortitude to realize that sometimes the devil is just other people.