This was a book club selection that I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise – but that’s the beauty of book clubs, isn’t it? You end up stumbling upon treasures that you normally would have overlooked.
In one of the hottest summers the town of Breathed has ever seen, Fielding Bliss’ father writes a satirical letter to the devil, inviting him to come visit, which is published in the town paper. Shortly thereafter, Sal wanders into town – a 13 year old black boy, claiming to be the devil, and giving no other information about his background. Fielding brings him home, and he takes up temporary residence with the Bliss family. They are wary of his claims, but also enchanted by this charming, mysterious boy.
As the summer progresses, the heat starts to get to people, causing tempers to rise and conflict to escalate as unexplained accidents get blamed on Sal, with townspeople starting to believe he is who he says he is.
I don’t want to expound on the plot much further as it will result in spoilers. I found the start to be slow, and I found myself living in the tension of, “Is this kid ACTUALLY representing the devil? Is this a fantasy-type book? Is this a metaphor? Or is there a practical explanation?” While I assume that’s exactly the tension that McDaniel was striving to build, I didn’t really love it initially, because I felt disoriented in not knowing which viewpoint I should be reading this from.
If you can stick with it, the second half moves along at a much quicker pace, and the circumstances that the town finds itself in is heartbreaking. It touches on small-town mob mentality, racism, homophobia, superstition, and family drama. If you can get past the slow start (which others in my book club also agreed about), it’s a gripping (and devastating) conclusion.