This is Tiffany McDaniel’s debut novel, and let me tell you… that is one hell of a novel! Set in the Midwestern town of Breathed in the mid-80’s, The Summer That Melted Everything is a story about the strange happenings surrounding the arrival of a young black boy. True to time and setting, we are thrust into a saga that tackles everything from racism, prejudice, small-town mob mentality, homophobia, and HIV/AIDS. It’s easy to want to turn my back on a narrative that normalizes these cringe worthy characters, but McDaniel manages to infuse so much compassion and empathy in these people that I find myself strangely drawn to the anti-heroes of her tale.
You can imagine anything you want in the dark. You can imagine your father loves you, you can imagine your mother is not disappointed, you can imagine that you are…significant. That you mean somethin’ to someone. That’s all I ever wanted, Fielding. To matter. That is all I’ve ever wanted.
McDaniel is very specific and lyrical in her writing. This is not your average popcorn flick and it isn’t an easy read. If you’re looking for that, go read something like The Martian or The Girl on the Train. If, however, your senses are sufficiently massaged to heavier old world type writing a la Faulkner or even Steinbeck or Tolstoy, then you’re in for a treat. You’ll need to reserve time and patience whenever you pick up this book. The grandeur of her word combinations and the heaviness of the topics – really, it’s a gut wrenching read – will slow you down in your day, because you won’t want to miss any of it and might find yourself rereading certain passages. I had to restrict myself to not reading in the evenings before bed, lest I be thrust into heavy dreams that might scare me or make me question my philosophy or spirituality. Not quite a fear of nightmares, but when you rendezvous with a nice boy who could potentially be the devil, you need to keep your cool before hitting the sack. The last one hundred pages in particular had me near tears and with twenty knots in my stomach.
All in all a fantastic debut, and I congratulate the writer on a imaginative and meaningful story. Tackling death in such a vivid way makes me want to jump into her head and pick her brains about her real-life experiences.
Also, quite frankly, someone should make a movie about this. You could go either super art house, or mind-bending TV (think Twin Peaks meets The Handmaid’s Tale) with it. Just sayin’.
Also published on Medium.