I guess we can’t all love everything. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book in return for an honest review.
The blurb: Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperatures as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him.
As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be.
While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
“What?!” I hear you scream. “Only 3 stars?! What is wrong with her?!”
My 3-star rating is a reflection of my experience of this book. I’m not saying this is a bad book. Not at all. The writing is very good and at times excellent. I particularly liked all of Sal’s parable-like stories and the author also manages to describe a few fleeting moments of true beauty. There is a strong story here and it unrolls at a good pace, giving us just enough information to keep us moving forward with the characters. The book is also commendably ambitious in how it seeks to tackle a number of difficult issues including mob mentality, racism, child abuse and homophobia. The initial idea of a child arriving in response to an invitation for the devil to present himself is a great starting point for a story and an exploration of ideas of good and evil.
However, for all the things which have made so many reader love this book, I’m very sorry to report that I found reading it a chore. Every evening when it was time to pick it up again I would sigh and wish it were shorter. That’s not good. I think I can attribute my lack of enthusiasm to two main factors.
The book is narrated by Fielding. He is now in his eighties and is telling a dual narrative: the events of the summer of 1984 when he was only 13 years old, and some events in his life after 1984 and in the present. Because of this dual perspective, we know from very early on that Fielding’s entire life has been ruined by the events of the summer when he was 13. Consequently we also know that nothing happy is going to happen in this book. And that was one of the things that made it so hard to read: there is no happy ending for anyone you come to like, and you intuit this from early on, meaning you’re just reading about a group of characters edging closer to death or a life of living hell.
Secondly, the language is dense and poetic. At times this is brilliant and highly effective. But too often I found in overwhelming and unnecessarily weighty. In prose, figurative language often has more impact if it is allowed to stand out. When a number of similes and metaphors are stacked on top of each other sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph, it makes reading the mental equivalent of wading through treacle. And if the subject matter being described is already rather heavy… well, you get reader fatigue. At least this reader did.
Overall: would I recommend this book? Yes and no. If you like literary fiction and are looking for a more lyrical, weighty read, then yes, this is your book. You’ll love it! If you want some cheery adventure escapism then no, I don’t think this one is for you.