In the summer of 1984, Fielding Bliss’s father invited the Devil to their town of Breathed. And he came, at least according to Sal, the enigmatic black kid who shows out of nowhere claiming to be the Prince of Darkness himself. Soon enough Sal is adopted into Fielding’s household to live alongside Fielding’s agoraphobic mother and athletic brother. But his presence unleashes an avalanche of unwelcome revelations upon Breathed.
The major draw of The Summer That Melted Everything is McDaniel’s prose style. Narrated from Fielding’s perspective, the writing in this book reminds me a lot of Bruno Schulz. It shares with Schulz a certain hallucinatory quality that McDaniel gets by describing something as a noun of quality, with the noun being something you wouldn’t normally associate with the quality. This works fantastically well for metaphors, and the juxtaposition of two random things imbues the text with a slightly dreamlike quality. Another Schulz similarity is that Fielding’s descriptions of certain events makes them sound more important and magical then they probably were. Add that to the Fielding’s fascination with his father’s eccentricities and all the religious references, and I’m absolutely confident in saying that this is a book that will be enjoyed by Schulz fans.
This book has excellent characterization. The narration establishes Fielding as a naïve yet thoughtful boy, while his mother is surprisingly competent despite her agoraphobia. His brother Grand stands at the intersection of condescension and fragility. He also peppers his speech with Russian phrases rendered in Cyrillic letters, a very nice touch. My favourite character was the well-named dwarf widower Elohim, Fielding’s neighbour who eventually leads a cult wanting to expel Sal from their town. He’s the most sympathetic racist I’ve seen in literature for a while. The man is obviously sublimating his grief over his wife into his weird little crusade, and it is understandable that a Christian would be unnerved by a kid claiming to be the devil. I couldn’t bring myself to hate the guy, even though he deserved it.
My biggest concern about The Summer That Melted Everything was the frame narrative, where a much older Fielding tells us what happened in 1984, seventy one years after the events occurred. Despite this, the frame narrative is set in a fairly ordinary trailer park, nothing futuristic about it. Casually mentioning robots would have been distracting, but the lack of anything different in the future portions bothers me. My solution would be to have Fielding briefly refer to the death of Obama. Still, this frame narrative grants us an insight into Fielding’s adult life and strongly implies that the stories he tells are exaggerated, so I think it’s worth it.
The Summer That Melted Everything is a very impressive first book, the exact sort of thing I can see being studied in schools. Admirers of hallucinogenic Americana, in the slightly Gothic tradition of Carnivale or Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel, will love it.
I was given a free copy of this book to review, preorder yours here.