The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDanielThis debut novel is generating some buzz and being hailed a new classic along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird.  McDaniel sets out to examine our interpretation of good and evil as seen through the lens of a small town in rural Ohio in 1984.   The plot is woven with prominent issues of that era – racism, homophobia, AIDS, cult mentality and serial killers - nearly all of which persist today.

The premise of this plot begins with a published invitation for the devil to come to town.  Sal, a 13 year old African-American boy turns up in response.  Sal befriends Fielding Bliss and is taken in by the Bliss family.  With the arrival of the “devil” comes a scorching heatwave and bad things begin to happen in town.  Fielding tells this story as an old man in the future, intertwining his memories of that summer along with the reverberating consequences in his life.

The story revolves primarily around the Bliss family - lawyer Autopsy Bliss, who issued the invitation; his wife Helen, who fears the rain and hasn’t left her home in over a decade; his older son Grand, a popular high school athlete and town “god”, younger son Fielding; and Grayson Elohim, a religious man who mourns the death of his fiancée and, unbeknownst to anyone, is nursing a grudge.

McDaniel is a very poetic writer, but at times metaphors seemed forced, with awkward phrasing and grammar that detracts from the story.  The multiple issues, and their weightiness, can also be overwhelming.  The primary theme is that our understanding of good and evil is based primarily on assumptions and expectations.  McDaniel challenges this premise by presenting the devil as an innocent boy.  Elohim, a Jewish name for God, assumes the evil element.  Sal quickly becomes a victim of racism, as the white townspeople eagerly accept his claim and freely pin all blame on the black boy.  The homophobic element culminates in a parable about Century, a Christ-like figure shunned for an unnatural act.

While an excellent book club selection with much material for discussion, it is by no means for everyone.  It deals with heavy, controversial topics, lots of death and will leave you bereft.  While you may not enjoy it or agree with its message, its novelty will stay with you long after the book is done, and that is quite an accomplishment for any author.

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