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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Go Back In Time To Your First Love--Read "To Be Sung Underwater" by Tom McNeal for an unforgettable love story that takes you there!

Book Summary:

Judith Whitman always believed in the kind of love that "picks you up in Akron and sets you down in Rio."  Long ago, she once experienced that love.  Willy Blunt was a carpenter with a dry wit and a steadfast sense of humor.  Marrying him seemed like a natural thing to promise.  But Willy Blunt was not a person you could pick up in Nebraska and transport to Stanford.  When Judith left home, she didn't look back.

Twenty years later, Judith's marriage is hazy with secrets.  In her hand is what may be the phone number for the man who believed she meant it when she said she loved him.  If she called, what would he say?  To Be Sung Underwater is the epic love story of a woman trying to remember, and the man who could not even begin to forget.

“You don’t so much read To Be Sung Underwater as you’re consumed by it … the bravest, most beautiful book I’ve read in a long time.” —Markus Zusak, author The Book Thief

Author: Tom McNeal:
Tom McNeal was born in Santa Ana, California, where his father and grandfather raise oranges. He spent part of every summer at the Nebraska farm where his mother was born and raised, and after earning a BA in English at UC Berkeley and an MFA in Creative Writing at UC Irvine, he taught school in the town that was the inspiration for his novel, Goodnight, Nebraska. Tom has been a Wallace Stegner Fellow and a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, and his short stories have been widely anthologized.

My Review:

I'm frankly so humbled and left lingering in the aftermath of Tom McNeal's writing that I hardly know how to express myself.  A strange place for me as a reviewer.

Having just finished "To Be Sung Underwater" today, I find myself heart-weary and contemplative...much like I felt after reading Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides," though the story lines are nothing alike and the protagonists are far from the same.  It's just the quality of how the books both reach something deep inside, something that rings so near and dear and so close to the heart.  This novel left me breathless, left me aching and longing for just one more time...just one more piece of the story...just a bit more...because I didn't want to put my own depth of feeling aside...again.

Mr. McNeal is an author of extraordinary skill, with the capacity to share a depth of humanity and feeling that reaches beyond our minds to the heart of us. He's one of those special, wise men that are so rare, he has to be beloved by all who know him.  He's one of those writers who will live a long time in American literature. 

He's a herald of the Midwest and the natural, simpler ways of life that are the bread and butter of our nation.  He's an author whose work will come to mind often through the years.  He gives us hope that through all the stresses, the paths leading to dead ends, and the corruption of our Age, love remains the constant and the most precious gift we can attain.  We can still believe in love.  And he reminds us that young love is as valuable and real as a love forged in later years.

"To Be Sung Underwater" is a love story that will carry you along through joy and misunderstandings.  It will take you back in time, and it will break your heart.  As Judith begins her journey of finding a young love with Willy, walks away from it and returns to find him again many years later, we travel alongside in our own fantasies of "what ifs."  Tom McNeal causes us to reflect.

"To Be Sung Underwater" is also a story about the history of a marriage of minds.  A marriage like some of ours...forged by intellectual stimulation and likeness, a common goal and the following of a "better life" with all its rewards.  It's the story of a marriage of good intentions and good companions...a marriage that makes sense and is a good match, but that fails over the long haul because it may not have had a foundation in true love.  Not the love.  Tom McNeal causes us to make an assessment.

Judith's teenaged years to her days of middle age reveal her to be a character both powerful in her determination to know and rescue herself, as well as to save her life light which often seemed to be eaking away.  The eventual marriage she's stayed in for nearly 20 years has become brittle and poisonious for her.  Finding her husband's assistant in her own hotel room with a man she thinks may be her husband is one of the catalysts that makes her move back in time to find where she lost sight of her self.  Tom McNeal causes us to search ourselves.

Willy of course represents lost dreams and the road less travelled.  He's the beautiful boy of summer, the boy of all that's simple and natural and stressless.  He's the Garden of Eden.  He personifies love and its joys and passion.  Willy is the one who makes time stand still and who is  never forgotten~the love of Judith's life.  He is the one she can be her authentic self with, and the one who really knows her.  Willy is her safe place in a world that's crumbling around her...the one whom she loves eternally and who loves her, too.  Tom McNeal offers us this opportunity to go back to those days when we were young and in love...

But, even in Paradise things are not perfect as we and Judith and Willy know.  Life steps in.  The campsite built in memory of their time spent there as young sweethearts is aging and in need of repair.  Willy is not well.  Judith has a difficult time allowing him to take her watch away...losing herself in a world where time stands still.  And, as winter approaches, even nature sings a different song.  The bitter sweetness of their reuniting is simply beautiful and painful to read about. 

All I want to say in the end is that you must take the fastest way possible to get your hands on this book.  It's a novel of immense character and beauty.  You will never forget it.  This author will touch your heart and soul with his story of love and loss, of regaining oneself, of well-meaning betrayal and of life and death.

It's one of those rare books I plan to read again.  I leave you with this  passage:

"Here's the thing, Judy.  Here's the thing we have to look at and accept.  For you, I was a chapter--a good chapter, maybe, or even your favorite chapter, but still, just a chapter--and for me, you were the book."

"No, no, Willy, what you're saying about me--that's just not ture,"  she said, but she didn't say what she thought was the truer, darker truth:  that, to use his methaphor, he had been most of the book, but she had been too careless or self-absorbed or oblivious to know it, and it was too late to change the ending.

And of this poem by Horace Mann written on a Victorian punch-paper sampler that Judith's father gave her:

somewhere between Sunrise and Sunset,
two golden hours,
 each set with sixty diamond minutes.
No reward is offered,
for they are gone forever.

This is simply a great novel written by a man of substance and depth.  5 stars...6 if I had them to give.




Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful review. I found you through the Small Blogs Big Giveaway blog hop and am now a new follower.
Laurie's Thoughts & Reviews

Laura McNeal

Thanks, Deborah. You express very well the pain and pleasure of this book. I love that you quoted what Judith thinks after Willy tells her she was the book. That's the tragic part: what she knows about herself and her life in that moment.
Laura McNeal
P.S. The sampler described above is on our kitchen wall. I found it in an antique store a few years ago and desperately wanted it, then didn't buy it because of the price. Tom went back and bought it for my birthday.

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