The Summer That Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel, Reviewed.

the summer that

I was invited to read and review this book by the author, and did so via the services of NetGalley.

Reading: what is it? A way of vicariously living? A route into the lives of others? A key to the insight of the wise and experienced? It’s these and so much more. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate in encountering some very good books, some by authors whose work I’m familiar with, others by writers new to me. This book, by Tiffany McDaniel, falls into the latter category.

So, what it is it about? The prime question. It’s a book full of metaphor, both within the language so exquisitely used and in the themes it so brilliantly tackles. The story concerns the arrival of a young man in an American small town, where he becomes a catalyst for violence in spite of his gentle and considerative nature. Told in the first person by the young man who becomes his friend and who grows both with and beyond him in years as the story progresses, it’s a parable about the nature of truth, belief and ignorance. But it is so much more.

Years ago, William Golding wrote about the veneer of civilisation and the rule of the mob in Lord of the Flies. Here, in The Summer That Melted Everything, that theme is revisited with extraordinary perception of the human spirit and its susceptibility to manipulation. Amongst the many themes layered into this complex novel, revenge, prejudice, the nature of good and evil, familial love, and the value of friendship are most evident. There are others, and the deep reader will discover these as the story unfolds.

Fear is a driver for so many of the characters, as it is in real life. Love is a counterbalance to that thinly veiled threat that menaces those who dare to be different. This is a book populated with diverse characters deeply drawn in detail and living lives both common and extraordinary. They mingle on the page to produce a portrait of humanity as a whole.

I mentioned metaphor: it is used to great effect throughout the book. But there is also parable, myth, and a hint of fantasy among the pages of harsh reality. There’s a short passage in the book that struck me on first reading. It follows the discovery by the central character of his dog, dying in agony through poisoning. The young man who’s the catalyst suggests the narrator might alleviate the animal’s pain by a mercy shooting. Here’s a brief taste: “…God is suffering’s biggest spectator. Will you wait, Fielding? Will you wait to see for yourself what happens? If you’re strong enough to watch suffering without laying down the pain, then you’ve no place among men, Fielding. You are a spectator on the cusp. You are a God-in-training.”

It would be easy for me to write at great length about the quality of the writing and the storytelling in this book, but I would have to illustrate my praise with examples. And this is a book that needs to be read. It’s a book that should become a classic.

Moving, shocking, tense and provocative, this is a book I feel privileged to have read. Don’t misunderstand me here: this is not a pleasant read, not a cosy comfort; many will need the tissue box handy. It is a superb read bursting with emotional content and important messages portrayed through the lives of those who reside in its pages. I’ll definitely read more from this talented author.

Available from 26 July for those using You can pre-order it in either eBook or hardback form here:

In UK it’s available from 1 August as an eBook and you can pre-order here.

The hardback, available from 11 August, can be pre-ordered here.

4 thoughts on “The Summer That Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel, Reviewed.

  1. glenavailable

    Seems the stars are aligning on this one Stuart. Here is another Goodreads reader’s review similarly enthusiastic to yours –

    Betsy Robinson’s review Jun 22, 2016

    Read from June 19 to 22, 2016

    I’ve never read anything like this before. It is that extremely rare debut novel by a young writer with an original voice, the daring to listen to it, and the skill to deliver—sans any of the bad habits taught in MFA programs or navel-gazing showing off. This voice is fully formed and unambiguous. Imagine the best Southern writers of many eras, plus a serving of a script by Shirley Jackson produced in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, with a touch of futuristic Kurt Vonnegut seasoning, all cooked with an imagination that belongs only to Tiffany McDaniel.

    The setting is the fictional small town of Breathed, Ohio, during the abnormally hot summer of 1984. It is a story told by a man called Fielding Bliss (son of the town’s prosecutor, Autopsy Bliss)—from his point of view in a future none of us have yet lived.

    At Autopsy’s invitation, because he cannot live with being certain and wrong, he invites the devil to Breathed; surely the devil will be someone he is certain about and right. A boy shows up claiming to be the devil. And all hell breaks loose.

    This is a poetic parable about how, in fear, driven by our herd instinct, in the high heat of unexamined beliefs, we humans easily and instantly allow common sense to be melted away. It is about our species—beings who have not been accepted as they are, disappointed in themselves, similarly rejecting themselves and then others. Paradise Lost. (Each chapter begins with an epigraph from the Milton poem.)

    This book has an epic quality. The writing is unusual. Is life an ongoing tragedy? This story is one to live with and contemplate.

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