The Summer That Melted Everything sees the devil invited to a little town called Breathed. What ensues are a series of strange accidents, an unsettling heat and questions about whether a small boy could really be who he claims to be.
Author Tiffany McDaniel was very kind to offer me an eARC of her debut novel. This, however, in no way influences my review. The book comes out tomorrow, July 26 in the US, and I encourage you to give it a try. There’s also a short interview with Tiffany McDaniel at the end of this review.
The story is actually kind of simple. The devil, depicted as a little boy, comes to a little town and its inhabitants get anxious when bad things start to happen. It’s a simple scenario, but it’s way more complex than that. This story revolves a lot about how people react to being near the devil. It’s interesting to see how they gradually turn against him, even though it’s just a little boy.
‘It’s a terrible thing for an angel to fall, because you cannot survive it by wing.’
There’s a substantial amount of religious references in this book, which isn’t really my cup of tea, but it didn’t bother me that much as it did fit the story well. After all, the devil is an important character, so it would be strange not to include religion in some way.
Every chapter starts with a quote from Paradise Lost which plays into the religious side of the novel, but also depicts the basic plot of the book. This poem by John Milton is about how the devil stood up against God, after which he fell into Hell. Then he returned to earth as a snake which leads to Adam and Eve being banned from Paradise. This all returns in the story, but not in a way that it’s the exact same one, this is vastly different.
There are quite a few delicate topics besides religion involved in this story, like racism and sexuality. While at first I thought that they were a bit out-of-place, I later felt like they formed a good addition to the story and gave it a little bit more depth. However, this might have focused on the negative side slightly too much, but that’s my personal opinion.
‘I’m the devil. No one tells me when to stay and when to leave. But it sure is nice to be wanted.’
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the narrator of the story, the older version of Fielding Bliss. At the end of the book, you totally understand why he’s so miserable and depressed, but I feel like he could have used a bit more happy moments, ones that he didn’t end on a sad note. He seemed very unsympathetic which made it hard for me to like him, even though I did like his younger self. Granted, he did go through a lot in his life which gives him a good reason to be this way, but still.
The young Fielding offered a unique look on the different topics, as he’s just a kid and doesn’t understand all of it. He also had some great character development. Sure, he did become a lesser version of himself, but that still counts.
The devil, or Sal as he’s called here, is a very interesting and intriguing character. While being a thirteen-year-old boy, he had so much depth to him. The way he spoke and the stories he told would certainly not come from a young boy like that. He told some disturbing stories though. I liked how, in a way, he’s responsible for everything that happened, while actually having nothing to do with it.
He was capable of making Fielding do things he normally wouldn’t do and which might be the beginning of Fielding‘s downfall into depression.
I liked that the ‘bad guy’ in this story wasn’t really a bad guy, except at the end perhaps. He was a very human character that had his fair share of bad things happened to him. It wasn’t hard to understand where his reasoning came from and it was compelling to see how he used to be close to our main character, Fielding, and how that relationship quickly faded away. It never really disappeared as every time they interacted, you could still feel that they knew each other well and weren’t always in this position.
‘And yet it’s far too easy to be the coward when it requires nothing more than a lie.’
Tiffany McDaniel’s writing style is something to look out for. She’s very skilled at describing the characters and their environments in a way that you know a lot about them, but that you don’t get bombarded with details. As I mentioned above, I really liked the way Sal told his stories. They were just captivating thanks to his manner of explaining things and speaking in metaphors. However, sometimes the sentences were structured rather difficult, in which case I had to read them a couple of times to fully understand them.
Interview with Tiffany McDaniel
An Ohio native, Tiffany McDaniel’s writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. She is also a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist.
The Summer that Melted Everything is her debut novel.
To start the interview, perhaps you could give a little introduction about yourself and how this novel came into existence, so that we could get to know you a bit better.
I’m an Ohio poet and novelist who wrote my first novel when I was eighteen. I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine for The Summer that Melted Everything, which while it is my first published novel, it is my fifth or sixth novel written. I have the narrative many authors have and that is that the journey to publication can be a struggle. So while I don’t come across difficulties in writing itself, the difficulties for me came about getting published. The genre I write, which is literary fiction, is seen by publishers as not being as lucrative as commercial fiction, so publishers don’t take many risks on literary fiction, especially darker literary fiction like I write. So for those eleven years I really didn’t think I would ever get published. Nor did I know that even with a publishing contract it takes on average two years to move a book through a house, so with all the years added up I will have been waiting thirteen years to see one of my novels on the shelf. Starting out at eighteen I certainly did not anticipate the years that lay ahead of me.
What inspired you to become an author? Was it like a childhood dream or did you sort of stumble into it?
As a child, writing was the first thing I remember doing without any external influence or direction. Writing to me is as natural as breathing. I’m lost without it. I just don’t exist.
Now onto the book itself. You let every chapter begin with a quote or verse from Paradise Lost by John Milton. How big of an influence was this book/poem on the creation and development of the story?
I named the chapters after the book was already written, so “Paradise Lost” didn’t come into play during the creation and development of the story. I first read the epic poem when I was in my early twenties. I was immediately drawn to its story because it’s about the fall of man from grace. I always title my chapters in my novels, and when I was thinking of the title chapters for this novel “Paradise Lost” immediately came to mind. There seemed to be a natural fit. I only hope I’ve done Milton proud by including his beautiful work.
And what about religion, which has a big part in the book, in general?
I avoid expressing my personal views on such topics. I think when readers know too much about an author that knowledge can began to compete with the book itself. So I’ll politely tip-toe around talking too much about religion, but I will say the battle of good and evil is indeed coursing through this book.
This book tackles a lot of different topics, like racism and sexuality. How important was it for you to include these themes in the story?
I didn’t set out to include these themes. These things just naturally came about as the characters developed and as the plot and the characters began to respond to one another. For me these issues become authentic struggles for the characters, so I don’t set out or force these topics into the text. It’s all about the natural evolution of the characters and writing their truths as honestly as I can.
And lastly, why did you choose to have the older Fielding as the narrator of the story?
I wanted a story told not just during that summer but after that summer as well so that the effects of the events could be revealed. In all the novels I’ve written, I have written from the first person perspective. For me this allows not just myself to connect to the story more, but I feel like it allows the reader to have a more invested connection as well. I can’t answer why Fielding is the narrator without giving spoilers away, but he’s one of the characters whose voice is so important to represent that summer when everything did indeed melt.
To conclude this review, I can say that The Summer That Melted Everything is an interesting read that wasn’t like anything I’ve read before. It touched upon some very thought-provoking topics which I didn’t really expect. I’ll definitely be anticipating her next book as I absolutely liked her writing style and the story that came with it. I want to thank Tiffany McDaniel again for providing me with a copy of her novel and for agreeing to this interview.
I’ll see you later!