Book Title: The Summer That Melted Everything
Book Author: Tiffany McDaniel
Page Count: 310
Publishing Date: July 26th 2016
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Date Read: July 16, 2017
“The heat came with the devil. It was the summer of 1984, and while the devil had been invited, the heat had not. It should’ve been expected, though. Heat is, after all, the devil’s name, and when’s the last time you left home without yours?
It was a heat that didn’t just melt tangible things like ice, chocolate, Popsicles. It melted all the intangibles too. Fear, faith, anger, and those long-trusted templates of common sense. It melted lives as well, leaving futures to be slung with the dirt of the gravedigger’s shovel.
I was thirteen when it all happened. An age that saw me both overwhelmed and altered by life in a way I’d never been before. I haven’t been thirteen in a long time. If I were a man who still celebrated his birthday, there would be eighty-four flames flickering above the cake, above this life and its frightening genius, its inescapable tragedy, its summer of teeth that opened wide and consumed the little universe we called Breathed, Ohio.”
“At that moment, I felt compelled to look at his hands. I thought if he was the devil, they would be singed, charred, somehow influenced by father the fires of hell.”
Would you know the devil if you looked him in the eyes? The Summer That Melted Everything will make you question what you know of good and evil. This one is a bold story reminding us of the devil inside. McDaniel brings us a truly moving, frightening, lyrical story of the human condition and the effects of prejudice and racism.
The Plot: The Summer of 1984 is the summer that melted everything in Breathed, Ohio. Local prosecutor, Autopsy Bliss, writes an invitation to the devil in the newspaper. Battered and bruised, thirteen-year-old Sal is the one who answers. Claiming to be the devil, Sal begins to spread fear and doubt through town. With the extreme heat, and the curious accidents that begin to happen, neighbors become riled up, facing personal, and physical demons. The Summer of 1984 is the summer that melted everything and changed Breathed, Ohio in catastrophic ways.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started the book. I was surprised by the intensity and raw beauty of the story. McDaniel took a story of hate and transformed it in to something elegantly moral and thought provoking. And it is indeed a story of hate, involving prejudice and racism. I felt the connection between the backward thinking of this town and time and current events still happening today. I was deeply moved by the morals of the story: Do not judge a book by its cover; Love, not hate; Racism and prejudice kill; Cherish your family. Unexpected heat and a dark heart can take control of the weak minded in terrifying ways.
“That heat brought out the throbs in hearts, the fever, the things that couldn’t be let go of. It was a perfect extractor of pain and frustration, of anger and loss. It brought everything to the surface and sweated it out.”
One of the main things I loved about this book and the writing style was that I truly felt like I was in the mind of Fielding Bliss. I felt what he felt, and experienced his thoughts and reactions to what was happening around him. I loved that the imagery used allowed me to fully picture the town and the people. And, the characters were so well written with such depth and personality.
“As we walked home, I knew from far away the trees wouldn’t looked nice, the grass would’ve looked green, and we would’ve looked like just a couple of boys walking home, armed with Midwest love and Bible Belt morals.”
Sal was my favorite character. He was such a mystery because, in claiming to be the devil, you expect him to be evil incarnate. I was expecting Damien from The Omen. What we got was so much more. To go in to detail would be to give massive spoilers away, so all I can say is that he is the biggest lesson of all to the town, and to Fielding.
“If looks were to be believed, he still was just a boy. Something of my age, though from his solemn quietude, I knew he was old in the soul A boy whose black crayon would be the shortest in his box.”
Fielding was a well written main character. As our narrator, we got to witness firsthand the horrors of the story and the mental effects he experienced. Fielding was deeply changed by that summer. He had embodied childish innocence and the act of coming of age surrounded by hate. His only salvation was Sal and his brother Grand.
“Summer in Breathed was my favorite seasons of all. Nothing but barefoot boys and grass-stained girls flowering beneath the trees. My favorite summer sight was those trees.”
Grand was the character I felt most sorry for. He experienced what a lot of teens experience today. He was a kind, caring character and he was an awesome big brother to Fielding. He had moments of feeling lost and confused and turned to someone who he felt was like him. In making this decision, he brought the biggest mistake to his life, which led to a downward spiral for the family and the violent events to follow.
“I never thought I’d see my brother defeated. He was always so strong. The boy with the durability of linoleum.”
I wish I could go in to more detail, but I would like to leave this spoiler free. I would most definitely read this again and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a moral, heartbreaking, slow burn of a story. I would give a mild warning for mature, emotional content, profanity and the use of the “f” word in a sexual nature. I don’t usually enjoy reading sex scenes in books, but these scenes were not graphic in detail and they added a sense of grittiness to the feel of the story and time period imagery. Make sure you do not miss out on this rich, powerful story.
Author Q & A:
What was the town like that you grew up in?
Tiffany: I grew up in a small, rural town in Ohio. A farming community that had a “drive your tractor” to school day. I love the country, and I love small towns, so it was a great place for someone like me to come-of-age. Breathed, Ohio, the fictional town in the novel, is based on my childhood summers and school-year weekends spent in the southeastern portion of Ohio, on the hilly acreage my father was left by his parents. It’s a farm in the foothills of the Appalachians and it is a landscape that has shaped as an author. So far Breathed, Ohio has been the setting in all eight of the unpublished novels I have written thus far. I’ve said before, cut me open and fireflies will fly out of me because it’s a land I know and love.
Did you experience anything visited in the story?
Tiffany: The story is pure fiction, but I will say that my mother came-of-age in southern Ohio, and because of her darker skin color she did face racism, much as Sal does in the story, but my mother did not experience it to the tragic degree that Sal ultimately experiences it.
How did it feel to write from the perspective of both a teenage boy and an adult male?
Tiffany: As a writer I need to be prepared to write a story from all viewpoints no matter the age, race, or gender. I don’t have difficulty switching into a voice that is not my own. When I write a character I think less about who they are as labels, and more of who they are as a person. As I was writing in the mindset of teenage boys and then later in the mindset of an old man, I didn’t step back and observe the difference between my gender and their own. What was at the forefront of my thoughts was making sure I was delivering their story to the best of my ability.
What was your favorite and least favorite thing about the 80’s?
Tiffany: There’s a lot to appreciate from the 1980s in everything from music to breaking-the-rules fashion. Perhaps my favorite thing about the 80s is that I was born in 1985. My least favorite thing is probably a lot of people’s least favorite thing about the decade, and that is the AIDS epidemic. Because I was writing about the 1980s, AIDS did find its way into my story-line. It’s unfortunate that the decade and the disease go hand-in-hand, but out of the fear, stigma, and lives lost to the disease, a movement and support came out of the darkness.
Were you inspired by any books or movies in particular when writing the book?
Tiffany: This story wasn’t inspired by anything external, but really from the creative wheel within. I always say it’s the characters that inspire me to deliver their truths to the page.
How do you think the people of Breathed would react in the same situation now?
Tiffany: I would like to think that a community in the same position today would react differently, but racism and hate are issues we are still dealing with, and are most likely issues that we will continue to deal with long into the future. Certainly our history is filled with examples of man making the same mistakes. Hate, prejudice, and fear of the unknown exist and will continue to exist to a certain degree, despite the passage of time.
How did you prepare to get in to character for Sal?
Tiffany: I don’t outline, or do character sketches, so there are no special preparations for any one character. For me, the story and the characters develop and evolve with each new word and page that I write. Sal was one of the most interesting characters to write because he’s an old soul in a young body. In essence, he’s a contradiction. The best thing we as authors can do is to allow the characters to speak their own truth. Sal’s truth is that he is intelligent, creative, and a mystery rolled into one.
When did you first decide to write a book?
Tiffany: Growing up I wrote poetry, short stories, and made little books out of notebook paper and cardboard. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen. I should say that while The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, it’s actually my fifth or sixth novel written. After I wrote that first novel when I was eighteen, I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine for The Summer that Melted Everything. It was a long eleven-year journey to publication, full of rejection and perseverance. My writing is dark, and I was often told I was risky to publish, which is something I think female literary fiction writers often encounter in contrast to their male counterparts. But if I had given up, I wouldn’t be where I am today with a book on the shelf. So to all the writers out there on the journey to publication, I say, don’t let rejection destroy you. Let rejection empower you.
Any plans for the future?
Tiffany: I’ve returned to that very first novel I wrote when I was eighteen. It’s titled, The Chaos We’ve Come From. It is a story inspired by my mother’s coming-of-age in southern Ohio, in those foothills of the Appalachians, from the 1950s to the death of her father in the early 1970s. It feels like a good time to return to these characters and to this story.
About The Author:
Tiffany McDaniel is an Ohio native whose writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows.Also a poet and artist, she is the winner of The Guardian’s 2016 “Not-the-Booker Prize” and the winner of Ohioana Library Readers’ Choice Award for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything.
The novel was also a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee in both fiction and debut categories, is a current nominee for the Lillian Smith Book Award, and a finalist for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Outstanding Debut.
Thank you to the author, Tiffany McDaniel for sending me this gorgeous, signed hardcover book in exchange for my honest review! All quotes, and excerpt, used are from the book, written by the author.