Being the devil made him a target, but it also meant he had a power he didn’t have when he was just a boy. People looked at him, listened to what he said. Being the devil made him important. Made him visible. And isn’t that the biggest tragedy of all? When a boy has to be the devil in order to be significant? (207)
In the stifling hot summer of 1984, Fielding Bliss’ father puts out a newspaper advertisement inviting the devil to their small Ohio town. He says he wants to “see for himself” what the devil is really like. Soon after the ad is released, 13-year-old Fielding walks by a boy in town who to claims to be the devil himself. Assuming he is a runaway from a nearby town, the Bliss family takes him in while the local sheriff conducts an investigation to figure out where the boy came from. The boy is wise beyond his years, making everyone unsure if he’s really the devil or if he’s just an ordinary thirteen year old boy.
As the summer progresses, strange accidents begin happening to the townspeople, resulting in fatalities. One of the Bliss’ neighbors takes a personal dislike for the boy and once fear begins to run rampant, no one’s lives will ever be the same.
Fielding’s narration switches between the summer of 1984 and his present life as an old man, many years later. It’s chock-full of magical realism and beautiful imagery. Really, my favorite part of this entire book was McDaniel’s ability to paint a picture through words.
I will say that the 80’s were as best as any time to grow up in. I think too they were a good time to meet the devil. Particularly that June day in 1984, when the sky seemed to be made on the kitchen counter, the clouds scattering like spilled flour. (10)
Breathed [their city] was the combination of flower and weed, of the overgrown and the mowed. It was Appalachian country, as only Southern Ohio can be, and it was beautiful as a sunbeam in waist-high grass. (9)
This novel is extremely atmospheric: you can almost feel the sunshine beating down on your home and feel the Appalachian breeze.
There are so many human emotions at play here. One of the things I found so powerful was the idea that a person can be very good, while at the same time, be very bad. That people are capable of kindness, but also extreme cruelty.
This is a deep, sad read.
Also, will someone please get Older Fielding a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a soft blanket? That poor dude’s PTSD is no joke.
Trigger warnings: Death of an animal, non-graphic references to rape
Note: I received a copy from the author for an honest review.