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Thursday, September 29, 2011

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal, 2011, * * * *

Let's face it--we are a country that loves second chances.  We want to rewrite our lives and swim against the current to recapture our pasts. That is certainly the case in Tom McNeal's hypnotic new novel to be sung underwater.  His complex, often heartbreaking heroine tries to find the first love she left behind many years ago.  Forty-four year old Judith Whitman has the veneer of a happy life, but there are cracks.  Her job as an editor on a TV drama isn't completely satisfying; she regrets the way her daughter is growing up and her seemingly loving husband appears to be having a dalliance with a co-worker.  Amid all this turmoil she experiences what she calls a "swerve" in life, and she begins thinking of her first love, Willy Blunt, a carpenter she fell in love with when she was 15 growing up in a small town in Nebraska. Judith begins to question her life, her choices and everything she has done since she was with Willy.  She is so richly drawn, so quirkily compelling, that you are immediately invested in her. In one of the novel's strangest turns, she rents a storage unit and begins to turn it into a refuge, a kind of home away from home that might feed her yearning.  She even takes on a secret identity.  One day, pining for her past, she tracks Willy down using a private investigator and makes a pilgrimage back to what she considers the life she should have led.  McNeal uses lyrical language and moves effortlessly through time to tell the twins tales of Judith's past and present.  It's hard not to fall in love with Willy Blunt because he is a guy who expects the best from people and has a code of honor so strong that it seems shatterproof.  However, just as you have given your heart to this story, McNeal breaks it with an ending that makes you feel cheated: a tacked-on shock that is a shame because everything that comes before is so ravishing.  Still, McNeal captures the flush of first love and the endurance of real devotion even as he probes deeper questions: Who are we with the ones we love and who are we without them? Heatbreaking, messy and incredibly sad, to be sung underwater is so vivivly written that it takes you to a place where all your perceptions seem dizzyingly altered.  Which is, of course, exactly like love itself.

1 comment:

  1. "To Be Sung Underwater" will leave you with an intense feeling of sadness and happiness as Willy and Judith comes to grip with their past and their future.This story will have your turning pages and have you desperately hoping for the best.A great story that is well written whose characters could be the family next door.