To Be Sung Underwater

Ah, well.

If you have even the teeniest bone in your body that belongs to a hopeless romantic, THIS is the book you should read. The story of Judith and Willy is the story of anyone who experienced an all-encompassing first love—the kind that lives in your heart long past it makes sense for it to reside there.

Judith Whitman is a wife. A wife, and a mom, and a film editor. While to outsiders she may appear to be living the stuff of dreams, her life isn’t much different from anyone else’s, and Tom McNeal’s writing is such that you feel he could be writing about your friend, your neighbor … you. It’s that real. The story flips between Judith’s youth (where all sorts of raging abandonment issues begin) and her life today (where those raging abandonment issues still exist). It’s her teen summer in Nebraska where the story takes root—where we meet Willy, and love blossoms.

When modern day pressures—a possible philandering husband, nagging teen and stress at work—conspire against Judith, she’s retreats to her youth in a decidedly odd way. The path she chooses leads her back to Nebraska, but not without a few punches to the gut along the way.

I don’t want to give too much away. The book is heartwrenching and wonderful, and so totally worth the read. Willy is my new I Ching of romance, with quotes like these:

“If we were honest about it, our lives are all fiascoes. There really isn’t anything of importance except maybe who gets handed your heart and what they do with it.”

and ..

“Here’s the thing we have to look at and accept. For you, I was just a chapter—a good chapter, maybe, or even your favorite chapter, but still, just a chapter—and for me, you were the book.”!

Whose mind doesn’t wander back? Back to the person that was just love? Not marriage, not kids, not taxes, not a mortgage, not careers? Just love. It’s never realistic, and therein lies Judith’s mistake. But thanks be to her for pursuing it so we can be reminded that sometimes, “What if? ” should stay that way.

To Be Sung Underwater
Tom McNeal

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