“Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.” — Summary from Amazon.
I will definitely be looking into Tiffany McDaniel’s other books because WOW! This story was transfixing, but the writing itself was impeccable. The intricately beautiful descriptions, metaphors, and similes as well as the deeply intimate stories told by Sal are each intensely poignant, aiming directly at your heart and not missing the mark even once.
Sal seems much too worldly and wise to be a boy of thirteen, so at first, it is easy to believe perhaps he is the devil. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear he is simply a deeply hurt and lost young man. He was not conjured by the invitation in the newspaper welcoming the devil to Breathed, but was in fact brought there by the very man who turns the town against him, branding him the devil so that his own evil would not be exposed.
There was seemingly no end to the tragedies in this summer of 1984. Fielding, our narrator who is currently an old man, never forgot every single one of them. His entire life following that summer was simply another tragedy born from it. The losses he witnessed, experienced, and the choices he had to make all shaped him into a man utterly broken by it all. He was never able to put himself back together, and so could never build a stable life for himself. His foundation too cracked to support anything other than his own suffering.
The biggest tragedy of them all though was Sal. A boy branded the devil who turned out to be perhaps the only angel among them, cut down before he could become the good man the world needed. And how many times do we see stories like that on the news? Too many, of course, and Sal is every last one of them.