It's said that you should be careful what you wish for because you just may get it. It's the summer of 1984 and Autopsy Bliss places a full page ad in the local newspaper inviting the devil to the small town of Breathed, Ohio. Autopsy, from the word autopsia which in Greek means "to see for oneself," when asked why he would do such a fool thing as invite the devil to town simply responds that he wanted to see for himself.
Breathed sits in the southern part of Ohio near the Appalachian Mountains. Even in 1984 it's a town without paved roads, a town where time seems to have stood still. It's full of small town values, small town ideas and small-minded people.
When Fielding Bliss, son of Autopsy, first lays eyes on Sal, he just sees another 13 year old. But Fielding is looking through innocent eyes. He doesn't see a black boy, he just sees a new friend.
Though nowhere in the book does it say that there are no black people in town, it's understood by the response of the townspeople that the sight of anyone non-white is a rare occurrence. Grayson Elohim has the most visceral reaction to the appearance of the brown boy with green irises. Time for Mr. Elohim stopped in 1956 when he lost his fiance. Perhaps that's why he's so taken aback by the sight of a black boy, lost in his memories of a time when black people, especially black boys and men, knew their place and stayed in it.
Indeed, Sal is a bit strange, but no stranger than anyone else in Fielding's family or in Breathed. Wise for his years, he offers counsel to Fielding and the rest of the Bliss family as they embrace him and take them in as one of their own. And he needs their embrace and their acceptance as strange things start to happen around town. It's unbearably hot and the townspeople are starting to behave in inexplicable ways. Secret meetings around town regarding the town's 13 year old visitor hearkens back to Klan meetings. Seemingly reasonable people are pulled into the rantings and ravings of Elohim and worked into an unforgettable and unforgivable frenzy based on his bigoted beliefs.
As the story unfolds, neither Fielding nor the rest of his family believe that Sal is anything other than a child, and I think that may have been the author's goal. Sal is charming and though he does bring out the worst in some people, he brings out the best in others. Did he arrive in Breathed for the sole purpose of exposing the evil lurking in the hearts of men and women? Is Sal really devil or just a very wise boy? I'll leave it up to you to decide.
Published: July 2016
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from author, opinions are my own.
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