August, 2019: The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

(Book 112) As I prepared our list of books for the year, I knew early on that I would host The Summer That Melted Everything. I read this book not long after my brother Dennis died and cried like a baby. I was an easy mark. The relationship that exists between Grand and Fielding Bliss, the way Fielding looks up to his big brother, struck an unfortunate resonance with this baby sister. Beyond my attraction to Grand and Fielding, I was taken in by so many other characters — Autopsy, Stella, Fedelia, Otis, and of course, Sal. I’d like to think that I could cogently express all that appealed to me, but it comes out in fits and sputters.

I’ve read reviews that complain of it being overwritten and even my pal Chris (who sums up our meetings if I’m not there or if I host as in the case here) said there were moments when she really couldn’t discern what the author was trying to say. But, I loved the language. ”It was a heat that didn’t just melt tangible things like ice, chocolate, Popsicles. It melted all the intangibles too. Fear, faith, anger, and those long-trusted templates of common sense. It melted lives as well, leaving futures to be slung with the dirt of the gravedigger’s shovel.” I loved the premise, I loved the intensity, I loved its examination of racism and religion, the definitions of good and evil. Yes, there were parts that I wouldn’t have included if someone had made me editor, but only because those parts detracted a bit from the essential. The saddest aspect for me was that it seems that Fielding has to fall from grace just as Sal did and is unable to recover from that fall.

I’ve emailed the author and she was entirely gracious. She sent bookmarks and bookplates for the girls in the club, personalized for each. She was kind enough to answer questions for a little interview that I included in the middle of my miniature “Women’s Day” magazine of women’s debut novels. I realized that I’d failed to mention in our correspondence that she chose to include a review on the back of her book written by a friend of mine: “A wondrous debut of a novel. Imagine To Kill a Mockingbird, seen through the eyes of Neil Gaiman. McDaniel’s prose is rich and magical, full of passages of exquisite, strange beauty that ache with bitter truths and old sorrows. You’ll not read anything else like it.” —James Sie, author of Still Life Las Vegas

When I sent the reminder for the meeting I wrote an invitation similar to Autopsy’s invitation to the devil: “I cordially invite you Tuesday, August 20th, to my home in Chicago, Illinois. Land of high rises and hot dogs, Al Capone and Cub fans. May you come in peace, With great faith that you’ll RSVP” It was met with responses such as “I will be there, or be damned.” and “Hell will freeze over if I don’t make it.” After the meeting, Chris sent this thank you for the group.

Dear Autopsy:
You throw a hell of a wake.  I feel bad for those who were unable to attend and happy for Debbie, who got to partake of your delicious repast (and who was a fun addition to the festivities). Your cheese fondue did the Stamper people proud, and I had to back away from it to keep myself from diving in headfirst. The meat loaf was really tasty, I could have made a meal of those haricot vert bundles, and while we’re on the subject of diving into a whole dish of food, those potatoes were clearly delivered by Satan as an evil temptation. Would you mind sharing that recipe?
Dessert: more temptations! How could you? Thanks to Fran for the fantastic pie and to you for the light-as-air melted ice cream cake. If I hadn’t been so full of good food I could have floated up to heaven on that. I assume Denny made the cookies. Nice packaging, almost as appealing as the Bot Bots. 
I think I’ve made all four of my announcements, or pronouncements anyway. 
But seriously, who leaves a book club meeting with a gorgeous soap in a heaven-sent bag and a kiss from a fantastic kid?
Sheer bliss. 
With gratitude, 

We started with an appetizer of cheese that the Summer (and a little Sterno) melted. The meal was the one Stella served the night Sal came to town, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls with a little license taken in their presentation. And the two desserts were #1 a Bumbleberry pie, which blends berries and rhubarb, a nod to Ms. McDaniel’s favorite dessert of rhubarb pie, and #2 a cake made with melted ice cream. Because Sal said there was no yellow in hell. making him think yellow was a heavenly color, the girls had lovely parting gifts of lemon or honeysuckle soap in yellow favor bags.