To Be Sung Underwater - Tom McNeal I am so grateful that I stumbled across this book. There was no buzz surrounding it, I had never heard of the author before, I didn’t even have the good fortune to unpack it from its box at the store. I simply noticed it on the new hardcover table one day and thought the title was great. The best impulse purchase I have ever made.

Judith is a woman going through a quintessential midlife crisis. Her life isn’t altogether bad, but it isn’t what she hoped for: her career as a film/television editor is stalled, her relationship with her teenage daughter is strained, and she suspects that her husband, Malcolm, might be having an affair. Her dissatisfaction with her life leads her to reminisce about Willy Blunt, the man she fell in love with when she was seventeen. The narrative flashes back and forth between the present and that Judith’s youth, explaining how she came to live with her father in Nebraska following her Vermont hippie-mother’s own midlife crisis, how her tender-yet-passionate love affair with Willy took hold of her life, and how it came to an abrupt end when she decides to pursue her dream of attending Stanford. Judith does not see Willy again after she leaves for college, but now that her own life has left her feeling unfulfilled, she finds herself wondering whatever became of him. When she decides she cannot handle the curiosity anymore, Judith hires a private investigator to track Willy down.

This novel is GORGEOUS, simply astonishing. McNeal has constructed a wonderfully complex, likable female character in Judith, with a strong back story that gives her shape and depth. Judith’s need to escape was so realistic, so believable. It never once felt melodramatic or too “woe is me.” McNeal artfully bounces back and forth between the past and present, building a multi-layered story without giving away too much too soon. There is no huge mystery at the center of this love story, just the simple question: did I make the right decision?

McNeal’s prose is stunning. His sentences were often an emotional kick in the stomach that I wanted to read over and over again. One of my favorite lines from the book is how Judith’s mother responds to Judith’s inquiry of what happened in her marriage to Judth’s father: “What always happens. We were happy, and then we weren’t.” It’s a very simple statement, but it so eloquently describes the idea at the heart of this book – our lives don’t always turn out the way we expect, no matter how hard we try.