Tom McNeal’s To Be Sung Underwater is a haunting and heart-breaking love story beautifully written, with captivating prose. The novel begins as Judith Whitman, who is married, the mother of a teen aged daughter, and a television editor, finds herself at a fork in the road of her life.
“It was not as if something snapped inside of Judith. It was more like an unfolding, a slow blossoming of resentment.”
The story hinges on what Judith describes as The Swerve.
“My life had utterly settled into itself and then this little…swerve occurred, or maybe I meant it to occur, maybe I actually plotted it out in one of those corners of your brain or heart you access only in dreams.”
It is this incident, that leads her down a path of reflection, and perhaps destruction, as she questions everything in her life, specifically her marriage and the decision she made long ago to abandon her very first love.
McNeal’s writing is beautiful. He paints a vivid portrait of Judith–her childhood, the dysfunction of her parent’s marriage and how it shaped her, and the memory of a summer romance with a young man in Nebraska that she sought closure on more than twenty years later, The story goes back and forth between the present and the past, revealing layer, by layer, the intricate details of Judith’s life and her longing to revisit the past in order to make sense of the present.
“Judith held the conviction that above the more routine types of love formed–and, she believed, diluted–by blood ties or economic pragmatism or even geographic proximity, there existed the kind of love that, as she once explained it to Lucy Meynke, picks you up in Akron, Ohio, and sets you down in Rio de Janeiro. Judith believed in the Rio Variation because she had herself experienced it, but only once, and that with a boy she’d thereafter abandoned, and never quite left behind. This boy was her first secret.”
Secrets. Reason alone to continue reading. McNeal has an exquisite way with his writing of tempting the reader into wanting more. He reveals subtle details and carefully immerses the reader in to the story, so much so that I literally could not put this book down. I wasn’t just intrigued by what might happen next, I was convinced I had to know. to be sung underwater is a rich story, filled with surprises. A definite page turner.
Hachette Book Group provided a review copy of this book for this post. All opinions are my own.
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