Who hasn’t wondered, “What if?” or “What if I had taken the road not taken?” In Tom McNeal’s novel, To Be Sung Underwater, his protagonist Judith Whitman attempts to answer those questions. Twenty five years after leaving Nebraska and her first love, Willy Blunt, to attend Stanford University and never return, she contemplates reaching out to Willy. In seemingly effortless but thoughtful prose, often deceptive in its simplicity, McNeal paints a picture of people and relationships that is as realistic as it is moving. Some may find a similarity to The Horse Whisperer, but this story stands on its own with a poignant heartbreaking sincerity and moves past popular fiction with jarringly moving prose.
Examining her present life under a microscope, Judith wonders if happiness escaped her because she escaped her past. Her teenage daughter is distant and her husband is most likely unfaithful. She goes to extraordinary means to track down Willy, but, for what purpose she’s not entirely sure. What follows is her journey of discovery, her eventual reuniting with Willy and the emotional ending of this story.
It will come as no surprise that McNeal’s first book, Goodnight, Nebraska won the University of Texas James Michener Prize for the best debut of a writer over 40. You will fall in love with his writing and his quirky characters and may even have the same sharp intake of breath that I had as I made my way through the tangle of emotions on display in the last few chapters of this unforgettable book.