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The Summer That Melted Everything Hardcover – 11 Aug 2016
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'Tiffany McDaniel s The Summer That Melted Everything is a wonderfully original, profoundly unsettling, deeply moving novel that delivers both the shock of fully realized reality and the deep resonance of parable. This is a remarkable debut by a splendid young writer.' --Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
'In this bold and surprising debut novel, Tiffany McDaniel reveals a new voice in contemporary fiction. At times comic, at times heartbreaking, The Summer That Melted Everything, moves between the future and the past, and gives us a window on a particular time, the hell-hot summer of 1984, and a group of characters George Orwell could not have imagined. In this world nothing is quite what it seems, as mystery and revelation alternate, right up to the end. At times surreal, magical, this story of a family and community incorporates global warming, AIDS, discrimination, fear, mass hysteria, lynching, and martyrdom, but in the end is a love story, warning us not to be too quick in judging what is evil and what is good.' --Robert Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of Gap Creek
'Sometimes a book comes along that is so good that it defies all descriptions, but I'll give it a shot anyway: Tiffany McDaniel's astounding and heartbreaking The Summer That Melted Everything reads as if Carson McCullers and Shirley Jackson got together with Nathaniel Hawthorne in some celestial backwater and decided to write the first truly great gothic coming-of-age novel of the twenty-first century. There, I said it. Now read it.' --Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time
A wildly riffing trumpet voluntary that sustains its thrilling high notes from start to finish … A startlingly rich imagination shouts its glorious arrival in this overwhelming narrative of sin, redemption, love and death.’(Jane Housman The Guardian)
'Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything is a wonderfully original, profoundly unsettling, deeply moving novel that delivers both the shock of fully realized reality and the deep resonance of parable. This is a remarkable debut by a splendid young writer.’ (Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain)
'In this bold and surprising debut novel, Tiffany McDaniel reveals a new voice in contemporary fiction. At times comic, at times heartbreaking, The Summer That Melted Everything, moves between the future and the past, and gives us a window on a particular time, the hell-hot summer of 1984, and a group of characters George Orwell could not have imagined. In this world nothing is quite what it seems, as mystery and revelation alternate, right up to the end. At times surreal, magical, this story of a family and community incorporates global warming, AIDS, discrimination, fear, mass hysteria, lynching, and martyrdom, but in the end is a love story, warning us not to be too quick in judging what is evil and what is good.' (Robert Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of Gap Creek (an Oprah Book Club Selection))
'Sometimes a book comes along that is so good that it defies all descriptions, but I'll give it a shot anyway: Tiffany McDaniel's astounding and heartbreaking The Summer That Melted Everything reads as if Carson McCullers and Shirley Jackson got together with Nathaniel Hawthorne in some celestial backwater and decided to write the first truly great gothic coming-of-age novel of the twenty-first century. There, I said it. Now read it.' (Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time)
'It is rare that a narrative makes me question my own beliefs. This book did that very thing. A fine story with a message about truth, trust, family, and the dangers of the devils among us.' (Suzanne Palmieri, author of The Witch of Bourbon Street)
'The Summer That Melted Everything is a blast of hellfire, humor, and heartbreak that’s part Flannery O’Connor, part Stephen King, and wholly original.' (Lou Berney, author of The Long and Faraway Gone)
'A wondrous debut of a novel. Imagine To Kill a Mockingbird, seen through the eyes of Neil Gaiman. McDaniel’s prose is rich and magical, full of passages of exquisite, strange beauty that ache with bitter truths and old sorrows. You'll not read anything else like it.' (James Sie, author of Still Life Las Vegas (pubbing this August))
'Sometimes there is a novel so strange and beguiling it makes you give up your world for another world, all the while that you are reading it. Such a story is Tiffany McDaniel’s tale of an enchanted boy ― who might be the devil ― welcomed into a family with no right to their name, Bliss. It will frighten you, and charm you, and break your heart if you allow it ... and you will allow it, because once this world has hold of you, it won’t let you go.' (Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author The Deep End of the Ocean (the very first Oprah Book Club selection) and Two if by Sea)
‘McDaniel opens up a thought-provoking world powered by increasing suspense … A powerful debut.’(Sunday Star Times)
‘Dark and wholly original … Gloriously Gothic.’ (Psychologies) See all Product description
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The Summer That Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel, is an exquisitely written tale of the tragedy of prejudice and herd mentality. Set in the town of Breathed, Ohio, during the long, hot summer of 1984, it centres around the Bliss family. Autopsy Bliss is a respected lawyer. His wife, an agoraphobic, is a loving mother to their their two sons. These boys, Grand and Fielding, have, up to this point, enjoyed their small town life. All that is about to change.
Their story is told from Fielding’s point of view, looking back on the summer he was thirteen years old from seventy years in the future. Early on it becomes clear that the events he will recount created a darkness in him. He sets the scene by describing the happy before, acknowledging that memories are coloured by time.
“What I’ve described is the town of my heart, not necessarily the town itself, which had an underbelly”
At the beginning of the summer Autopsy places an advertisement in the local newspaper inviting the devil to come to Breathed. With the start of the heatwave he arrives in the form of a small and ragged coloured boy named Sal. Fielding spots this devil outside the courthouse, although he questions Sal’s claim to his provenance. Fielding takes the boy home, after all it was his dad who extended the invitation. He is intrigued by the young stranger who speaks with a wisdom beyond his years.
“I knew he was old in the soul. A boy whose black crayon would be shortest in his box.”
The Bliss family welcome Sal but the townsfolk are less accepting, especially Grayson Elohim, a neighbour and steeplejack teaching Fielding his trade. Elohim whips up suspicion, blaming Sal for a series of misadventures. As the heat causes crops and tempers to fail, the townspeople’s concerns bubble over into something more sinister.
“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?”
Fielding’s previously close relationship with Grand fractures when he discovers his brother’s secrets. Sal has become his best friend but Fielding struggles with the love his mother offers this family interloper. When Sal falls in love with a local girl, a downward spiral of events gathers pace which will change Fielding forever.
The imagery is stunning, the prose lyrical, but the mood conjured up is overwhelmingly bleak. It feels as though Sal and then Fielding shoulder the weight of the world.
I cannot say that I enjoyed this book. The emotions evoked were too raw, too real. The writing is powerful and unflinching in its depiction of prejudice, intolerance, petty cruelties and casual hate. It is brilliant but harrowing. A literary tour de force that was painful to read.
“The heat came with the devil. It was the summer of 1984, and while the devil had been invited, the heat had not”
Wha….a..t?! The devil invited, the heat not invited……who? Who has invited the devil? Why has the devil been invited……..and, you can see, I needed to know
McDaniel started with a sinister, compulsive and alluring drumroll, and her densely packed, image filled writing – a quite marked individual voice - grabbed me by the throat.
Okay here is setting, narrator, and sketch of the journey’s beginning and a loose laying out of terrain – but as the power, shock and particular unfolding can only happen for each reader, reading the bookmap for themselves, you need to bring your own (possibly violently swinging as you will be traversing through areas of magnetic interference) – moral compass
“I once heard someone refer to Breathed as the scar of the paradise we lost. So it was in many ways, a place with a perfect wound just below the surface.
It was a resting in the southern low of Ohio, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where each porch had an orchard of small talk and rocking chairs, where cigarette tongues flapped over glasses of lemonade”
Fielding Bliss is a 13 year old boy, son of a small town lawyer, Autopsy Bliss. And I nearly wrote Atticus Finch there, by mistake (more later) Fielding is, we quickly see, younger son in a happy, quirky family. He idolises his popular, kindly, widely admired-and/or desired older brother Grand, star of the baseball team, self-taught speaker of Russian, just because little brother Fielding tells him he has ‘Russian eyes’. Mom is a beautiful and warm woman….except a little damaged, as she has agoraphobia, and can’t go outside her house for fear of rain. And, it turns out, no real spoiler here, as it is revealed only a couple of pages in – it is Autopsy who has invited the devil by placing an ad in The Breathanian, the local newspaper of Breathed, Ohio.
Fielding is the first person narrator of the events of that strange, melting summer. He is also the one who first meets that devil, or, perhaps, the one who first meets a small boy of his own age, impoverished and hungry, who claims to be the devil, and is desperately wanting ice cream.
Yes, I know, strange, weird, but, believe me, not random, not weird-for-the-sake-of-bizarre. McDaniel knows exactly where she is going to take us, and everything we think we need to know (and much we had no idea we were going to need to know) will be revealed.And, I fully expect along the way you will shiver in shock and terror, bark in appreciation at the oddball humour, weep in despair, and be riven by pity and rage.
Again, no spoiler because this will come quite early. Fielding is not writing his story in real time – this happy boy is being looked back to from behind the eyes of an elderly, bitter, self-hating and broken man. The journey will take us from the then of 1984 to some seventy years later, and a trailer park.
Some startling comparisons have been made, to mark out the territory McDaniel’s book occupies – Shirley Jackson, AND Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. And I would like to add one of my own – Carson McCullers - often described as Southern Gothic, and who also explores 'the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts’ (Wiki quote)
Generally I find myself harrumphing in disbelief at these kinds of comparisons. Not here. The Jackson comparison is apt for the wonderful combination of horror, a strange, dysfunctional world and sometimes savage, dark humour. Mockingbird gives us the child of a small-town lawyer, and events triggered by a small town mentality of suspicion and fear of the outsider which might go along with the better aspects of small-everyone-knows-everyone community. And the dark effects of small-town mentality also expose something which has wider, more pertinent effects country, and even, world wide. More later. As for McCullers, it is the mix of tenderness and brutality, both within the misfits, between the misfits, and towards the misfits – who, surely, are everyone
“You say, ‘Momma, I just want more. I want to fly like the sudden light. I want to know what it’s like to have a reason to dance. I want all the possible love’
She says people like us don’t dance and we don’t fly. People like us, she says, don’t get more. We take the life we are given and we say grace and glory be to God who is His merciful wisdom has granted such bliss. You hate her God and His wisdom. You hate her acceptance of that empty life.”
Added to this mix, quotations from Milton’s Paradise Lost at every chapter head nod us back to that complex portrayal of the devil. Milton is always reminding us Satan, Lucifer, is fallen angel. The small boy who has arrived in Breathed in response to Autopsy’s invitation, takes the sobriquet Sal – Sa for Satan, the devil, and L for Lucifer, the reminder of the original, angelic light filled (lucent) angel before fall. There are other names belonging to other characters within the book that we might need to reflect on. Who is good, who is not good, what is evil, and who might be evil and how might evil move amongst us. And what of God, and who, and what, and who might be and how might goodness/Godness move amongst us
And all this complexity is twined and hooked into wondrous writing, as I hope my quotes have illustrated
The further I read, the more I was thinking of the political events of the year, of the move towards a kind of global suspicious, fear-filled, small town isolationism – particularly on both sides of our ponds, but also wider.
A small cavil – yes, there are times when I think McDaniels can overwrite and the wonderfully rich layers of meaning within her writing can sometimes become a bit left dangling, in need of pruning back, clipping, tidying up or even, finished off by leading them to a clearer conclusion.
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