Fielding Bliss is an old man telling his story of the summer that changed everything. When you finish reading his story, you’ll completely understand why he’s now one of those nasty “Get off my lawn!” old guys. And you’ll also probably feel like crawling in a deep dark hole and never returning to planet earth. At the very least, you’ll likely give those old cranks a pass the next time they holler at you or your kid.
This story is cruel, it is bleak and it is beautifully descriptive and impossible to put down. You might not want to start it for your own well-being but then you will never know what you are missing.
It is the summer of 1984, a simpler time in many ways and also a just as complicated time. It’s the summer of hair spray and the beginning of AIDS and all the fears and prejudice associated with it. Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” could be the soundtrack for this one. In a little town called Breathed, Ohio the heat relentlessly blasts thirteen year old Fielding and everyone around him. When his dad, for some reason, decides to send out an invite to the Devil, well, no one is all that surprised when he actually accepts. What better circumstances for the devil to come a-calling than this brutally hellish summer?
The devil arrives in the form of a young black boy the Bliss family name Sal. Being kind folks, they take him in. Dad did invite him, after all. Sal is an old soul and makes fast friends with Fielding but soon a series of very unfortunate events occur around Sal. Prejudice, fear and heat induced madness start to take over the residents of Breathed as more terrible things occur over the tragic summer. And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot.
The descriptions in this book are a thing of pure beauty. It was truly an experience, this book. It brought me back to that time in the 80’s when I could spend all summer under a weeping willow tree reading while Corey Hart and Madonna serenaded me from an oversized boom box. The summer just before tragedy struck my family, altering it forever. This book hit a nerve in me and reading it was a bit cathartic. As painful a read as it was, I will never regret reading it.
This is one of those books that will break your heart even if you think you don’t have one and could easily leave you in a funk, so do yourself a favor and find yourself a nice, sunny spot outside and get to reading it.