"The Summer that Melted Everything" by Tiffany McDaniel

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During the impossibly hot Ohio summer of 1984, a young boy’s presence in a small town catalyzes horrific events which result in splintered families, mob violence, arson, and murder. Debut author Tiffany McDaniel handles all this with assurance and aplomb, such that I’m quite taken aback at the powers displayed in her first attempt. Her very true-to-life first person narrator is a thirteen year-old boy about to grow up in a major hurry, and she places stunning, gratifying eloquence in the voice of another boy who seems to know way too much about God and the world. It’s a remarkable achievement.

We learn at the outset that prosecuting attorney (named, curiously enough, Autopsy Bliss) has published a letter inviting the devil to his small town so he can see it for himself.  And as suddenly as a pre-adolescent black boy, Sal, shows up, that’s how quickly the summer starts to sizzle and oppress the town. I’m generally put off by parables when reading and the beginning of The Summer that Melted Everything made me cautious. Soon enough, however, the very human events and emotions take over, and any discomfort I’d been feeling melted away. It’s a rich novel, very well conceived, but stunningly well executed.

The setting here reminds one of Faulkner - the small town with its dusty lanes, the idiosyncratic characters, the timeless human traits of prejudice, ignorance, and hatred. The author bolsters and enriches her story by grounding it firmly in the here and now, its murderous horrors all too real and familiar. The emblematic character names and
chilling events take on a fuller, heavier significance once the true events are known. And Ms. McDaniel deftly upends our beliefs and expectations for these characters.

I urge you to take up The Summer that Melted Everything from a pure reading enjoyment standpoint. But there’s another good reason: you’ll want to make Tiffany McDaniel’s acquaintance as soon as possible. I can reassure you of this new novelist’s talent and vision.

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