Review | The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

I guess we can’t all love everything. 3/5 stars.

The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

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.

My take:

“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.

Claire Huston / Art and Soul

22 thoughts on “Review | The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

  1. Too bad you did not love this book. Funnily, I found the writing lighter than some books I was recommended. I DNF books that have a writing heavy on metaphors and images because I never manage to truly grasp the meaning of it all, but it did not happen with The Summer That Melted Everything. Maybe I’m getting better at this kind of things πŸ™‚ I had not even thought about the fact that Fielding telling his story through two narratives gave away the fact that no happy events were to be expected. Great observation! I was so engrossed in the characters and the events that I never noticed it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think this is another book which you will love or not depending on your mood when you come to it. I think I should have read something “lighter” after The Museum of You and before this book. I might have enjoyed it a lot more 😦 I’m reading something fluffy next to give future books a better chance!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree with you. I could not get through this book. It was such a dense read, the pacing was horribly slow, and I could not connect with a single character. I also felt like the setting was off. The way the town was described I was picturing some backwater town in Texas not Ohio. And as someone born in the 80’s I felt it was also lacking in references from that decade. Nice review! I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t connect with this book. I was starting to wonder if I needed to give it another shot.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you πŸ™‚
      Yes! I didn’t put that in my review but I absolutely felt that it was set in a timeless “everywhere” in the deep south somewhere. I didn’t feel it was the 1980s at all (aside from the HIV issue coming to the public’s attention) or a town in Ohio.
      I do think that if I had read it at another time I might have appreciated it more, but it was just such hard work!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cool! πŸ™‚
        Yeah, being the minority can be daunting, especially with a hype book… but hey, having a different viewpoint on things, more so when you’re one in a thousand, is actually pretty cool and you did explain so well why it didn’t sit with you so no one can actually argue with you there πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  3. D’awwe! I’m not surprised, though, because I can totally understand how this one can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m normally bored out of my mind as well when the prose becomes too heavy without serving a purpose, which is why I was amazed I didn’t experience that at all with this book. You’re also right about the older Fielding-narrative not leaving much room for happy events. For me, it was an incentive to keep on reading to see just how bad the situation would become :D. Great and honest review, though! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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