“I want to fly in the sudden light. I want to know what it’s like to have a reason to dance. I want all the love”.
Each chapter forces you to go back a little: to those few lines mentioned at the beginning, excerpts from Milton’s Paradise Lost. He goes back to read them again and place them on the following pages, like a sheet of meaning that helps us understand. It is a necessary movement, to go back to better understand, or at least to try. It would be tempting to do it with the whole book, once finished, start it all over again with the meaning illuminated by the ending. Maybe we’ll do it, for now a few words, certainly not very enlightened, that smack of an attempt, we don’t believe we can do otherwise.
Summer 1984: the devil arrives in Breathed, a small town in Ohio, devoured by the most suffocating heat ever. He arrives there at the invitation of a man who immediately remembers Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. A man of unquestioned morality, the man who uses the sieve of justice to remove a little evil from the world. Or at least he tries, without arrogance, as if it were the only thing you can try to do. The devil is a skinny black boy with leaf-green eyes, a reminder of a never-forgotten Eden. Hi, did you call me?
The little boy is adopted by the family of the right man, who has a wonderful wife who doesn’t cross the threshold of the house for fear of the rain, an older son who is the model teenager of an entire American dream, a little son who tells us the story, try to pull the strings from the end of his life, a miserable end of abandonment and loneliness, with which he begins each chapter. And it is a bit of this end that we try to get to throughout the novel, we want to know how it got there.
Meanwhile, disturbing events, strange tragedies, irreparable losses happen in Breathed, in the boiling air of that summer everyone seems to have a reason to blame the devil for every defeat. That he looks like a child doesn’t seem to touch anyone except the family that welcomes him, like a son, from the first to the last moment.
Think of everything that can turn your stomach: racism, homophobia, senseless accidental deaths, domestic violence, prejudices of all sorts, evil in all its visible forms. Mix, dilute with more than smooth writing, and you get roughly the content of each chapter. Beyond all reasonableness, absolute evil envelops this no longer charming town and finds its scapegoat in the one who, if you want to hear the scriptures, is its proven origin: the devil.
For about 400 pages Tiffany McDaniel questions us: what is evil, who is the devil, is there a pain that makes sense, a loss that can be faced without looking for a culprit? The density of paradoxical and extraordinary misfortunes only summarizes any life in one summer, all the worst that a man can encounter on his way: events that normally seem distant and disconnected to us, all enclosed in a glance, in a faster, inevitable falling movement. In something that seems outside of us and which instead is a common, metaphysical and stubborn question, inherent in the heart and reason of man: but why? In life it often happens to lose the thread of understanding, the existential question grips us followed by unreliable answers to which we choose to cling more or less firmly. Even the most resigned, most serene response, the acceptance of senselessness, offers support to our steps, helps us to reach an end. At the end of this summer, we are bewildered, oppressed, with more questions than answers.
It seems to us that McDaniel did not want to dispense with them, they remain in that suspended air before the storm, the storm that does not devastate but purifies, biblical, epic, all-encompassing. This book echoes many other pages already read, yet it re-proposes the need for the question, the look in the mirror that cannot be avoided, even after a lifetime of reading, studying and researching. It’s not that it feels too good after finishing it; we like to think that this malaise is given by a movement, by a stretching of the soul given by certain scripture, similar to the black parables that come out of the mouth of the devil and not of Christ the savior. A gospel that does not save, but keeps us awake. In all senses.
Ci pare che McDaniel non abbia voluto dispensarne, rimangono in quell’aria sospesa prima della tempesta, del temporale che non devasta ma purifica, biblico, epico, totalizzante. Questo libro riecheggia tante altre pagine già lette, eppure ripropone la necessità della domanda, lo sguardo allo specchio che non può essere evitato, nemmeno dopo una vita di letture, di studi, di ricerca. Non è che ci si senta troppo bene dopo averlo terminato; ci piace pensare che questo malessere sia dato da un movimento, da uno stiracchiacchiamento dell’animo dato da certa scrittura, simile alle parabole nere che escono dalla bocca del diavolo e non del Cristo salvatore. Un vangelo che non salva, ma tiene svegli. In tutti i sensi.
Written by Delis
Tiffany McDaniel, L’estate che sciolse ogni cosa, Atlantide, Roma, 2016
Original edition: The Summer That Melted Everything, Scribe Publications, 2016