Monday, 12 June 2017

Review: The Summer that Melted Everything

You may remember that a while ago I interviewed Tiffany McDaniel, the author of her debut novel ‘The Summer that Melted Everything’ that is also the winner of the 2016 ‘Not the Booker Prize’. I read the book in preparation for the interview, but I couldn't resist posting a review as well- I can't talk about this book enough!
It's set in the small town of Breathed, Ohio, in 1984, and follows the summer from the perspective of Fielding Bliss. The novel begins with the arrival of Sal, claiming to be the devil answering to an invitation sent by Fielding's father Autopsy. Sal arrives in the form of a thirteen year old boy who is initially assumed to be a runaway from a local farm. Tensions rise along with the heat, and the summer becomes one that will impact on the town, and Fielding, forever. 

I think the first thing that really impacted me about this book was the atmosphere McDaniel creates. My favourite kind of book is one that you can really lose yourself in, and this definitely fell into that category. Although I was reading this book during the Scottish winter I could feel the Ohio heat radiating out of it, I could envisage walking down the Breathed streets and I felt like the characters were people that I knew. I found the atmosphere reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, but certainly darker, and there were little bits and pieces that reminded me of other novels or things I've read. I liked the way you could pick out these bits, and I think it added to the believability of the book without being too overpowering or taking away from the uniqueness of the story. McDaniel doesn't sacrifice the description or character development for the sake of the plot, which is something I'm really grateful for, as I find it hard to stay with a plot if I'm not emotionally invested in the world.
The storyline too was something that I really enjoyed. I liked the way that the narrative switched between Breathed in 1984, and Fielding as an adult. It drew me into the story, making me want to read on and find out what has affected Fielding so greatly as to cause him to become the person we meet in these flash-forwards. Nothing was revealed too early either, and nothing was too easy to guess. I found myself thinking I'd worked out what had happened and then find myself proved entirely wrong each time I turned the page, which I absolutely loved. It frustrates me when a plot line is predictable, or simply a mirror of another book, so to read something that continued to surprise me was wonderful.

McDaniel's writing too was beautiful, and so easy to read. I certainly welcomed the change from the heavy classics I was reading for university! It was great to read something that was so accessible without being a kind of bubblegum fiction that is a little cliché and repeative. It is certainly a  dark novel, dealing with themes such as race, sexuality, gender, and mistrust, so perhaps not an obvious summer read, but I found myself leaving it with a new perspective on how people function as a community and an increased awareness of the dangers of using marginalised people as scapegoats. It's not an obvious book to pick up for your holiday, but I can't recommend it enough if you want something that is well written, totally absorbing and makes you think!
E x


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