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To Be Sung Underwater
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To Be Sung Underwater

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  3,585 ratings  ·  749 reviews
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 honor. 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 Judi...more
Hardcover, 436 pages
Published June 2nd 2011 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Laura McNeal
Yes, I'm married to him, but I'm still voting. Tom gave this novel to me in manuscript form on Christmas day 2009 after seven years of writing and revision, and I read it all day and into the night. I finished it at 2 a.m. It was the best Christmas I've ever had. I want a book to make me fall in love. I want a book to be wittier and sweeter and just as rueful as the real world. I want a book to surprise and haunt me in all sorts of ways on every page, and to make me wish I could go to the places...more
Teresa Lukey
At its heart, this is a love story-first love to be exact, but it also touches on elements of growing up, the intricacies of marriage and past regrets. The start of this book is like the casting of a line. Almost immediately you snag something delicate, then you begin to very slowly reel the line in. As you reel the line in, you know the line is there but it winks in and out of sight, but, again, you always know it is there.

I can't remember the last time I felt so perfectly cradled in the crook...more
Deborah
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; ask anyone who knows me!

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, some...more
Marialyce
Can one ever forget their first love? Should one go back and try to find that love and see what just might happen?

This occurs in this novel which brought about so many emotions and feelings that touched me deeply and soulfully. The story deals with the blandness of marriage, the longing for something of long ago, and the ability to try and recapture the moments that thrilled and excited our protagonists, Willy and Judith. Judith seems haunted by a number of ghosts: is her husband having an aff...more
Nancy
I don't know how to review this book. It was deeply moving and I don't have a category to neatly slide it under. The writing is absolutely beautiful and the experience of reading the book is visceral. Reader's Digest version misses the symbolism and the gathering of different threads to be mulled over later and braided together. But here it is, anyway:

Today Judith is a 44 year old woman working in television/movie editing. She is married to Malcolm, a man she met at Stanford and a mother of Cami...more
Virginia
I honestly cannot figure out if I loved this book or hated it. I became engaged in the story and yet found it familiar. I liked the main character, Judith, as a little girl and teen, but really disliked her as an adult. I still haven't decided if her teenage love, Willy, was a good guy or a conniving underhanded sneak.

The story involves a film editor named Judith who lived in California, but spent her teenage years living with her lovely father (a totally likable character) in Nebraska after he...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
To be flung underwater and anchored there with a giant boulder to prevent it from ever resurfacing.
Kelsey
To Be Sung Underwater is set in an actual town in Nebraska where I attended college. In one of my classes, the professor mentioned this book because 1) It was set in our town, and 2) There’s sex. Apparently that’s the only recommendation college students need. I was interested in seeing how Tom McNeil portrayed the town. While the setting was familiar, the story proved disappointing. Don’t be fooled by the enigmatic title or artsy cover; this is nothing more than Nicholas Sparks on Prozac.

This...more
Jennifer
a couple of takeaways from this book:

1. judith is having a mid-life crisis. she doesn't feel passionate about her marriage; she is stressed out at work; she is semi-alienated from her teenage daughter. with this context, it is understandable that she begins to long for a time in her life when she was happier, felt more free and alive.

2. when peoples' first experiences with love are cut short before the passion wanes, they always idealize the first love. we remember every thrilling detail--the co...more
Andy Miller
This novel has gotten great critical acclaim, but it left me empty. The story goes back and forth from Judith's high school years in a small Nebraska town and present day where she lives in southern California with her banker husband and only child while she works as a television film editor.

The flashbacks are more interesting, partly because Judith's dad and mother were interesting....Present day Judith and her husband not so much.Unless whining about your life is interesting.

I'm in a minority...more
Laura
A tremendous read, something that will stay with me for quite some time. This one grabbed me from the first page. The prologue made me say "Whaaaaaa?" and I was sucked right in, with some big questions from the start.

The book transitions from past to present, which are somehow equally compelling. You may not love the protagonist, but you can't help but be interested in her. She's pretty complex, and as the story unfolds, her motivations become easier to understand and relate to.

The book examine...more
Lena
This novel about a 40-something LA film editor whose thoughts begin drifting back to the summer she loved a Nebraska farm boy gets off to a promising start. It was recommended to me for the quality of the writing, and I was in fact impressed with McNeal's lovely, carefully crafted prose. I was also drawn into the thoughtfully developed characters - not just the main character, Judith, but also her parents, who were struggling to deal with the impacts of their choices in a rapidly changing world....more
Banafsheh Serov
The first time we fall in love, lasts forever.


Love is complex. It can uplift spirits and it can bring them crashing to the ground. Traversing between Vermont and Nebraska where her parents have separated to, Judith meets and falls in love with Willy Blunt. They separate, promising to wait for one another when she leaves for college. But now Judith is introduced to a different world and has new sets of friend. She meets Malcolm and consciously starts to let go of her past; starts to let go of Wi...more
Bookworm
What a great find To Be Sung Underwater has turned out to be. With it's wonderful writing, moving storyline and dynamic characters, this was one of those books that I lost myself in for a few days.

One summer, while living in Nebraska with her father, Judith Toomey met and fell in love with a carpenter named Willy Blunt.
When she left for college, she promised him she would return and marry him. Instead, Judith wound up meeting and marrying a banker named Malcom and has a daughter named Camille....more
Cook Memorial Public Library
"It is the first shower that wets."

"Marriage is like picking the place where you're going to live for the next fifty years by using a wall map, a blind fold, and what you really, truly, deeply believe is your lucky dart."

"Our marriage, like all marriages, was happy until it wasn't."

Judith was living the dream and had the sort of marriage to Malcolm she had envisioned for herself during her college years at Stanford. Her life was settled and serene, until a little 'swerve' occurred which she mi...more
Ellen
"It is the first shower that wets."

"Marriage is like picking the place where you're going to live for the next fifty years by using a wall map, a blind fold, and what you really, truly, deeply believe is your lucky dart."

"Our marriage, like all marriages, was happy until it wasn't"

Judith was living the dream and had the sort of marriage to Malcolm she had envisioned for herself during her college years at Stanford. Her life was settled and serene, until a little 'swerve' occurred which she mig...more
Kristi
This is one of those books that kind of sneaks up on you, draws you in, and then hits you with a heartbreaking, unforgettable ending. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but as I kept reading I found myself falling in love with the characters. McNeal's writing is economical and beautiful, and it truly soars when he writes about the Nebraska landscape & the flawed, broken characters who inhabit it. The ending -- well, some people probably won't like it, but it was the right ending...more
Sarah
I am baffled by the high praise this book is receiving. Did not like the main character at all. She was selfish, snobby and a terrible mother. She never deserved Willy in the first place. I found the constant witty comments between all the characters annoying. The ending was just sad, pointless and abrupt. All in all, highly disappointing. Wasted two weeks of my life reading this.
Luane
A forgettable story about young love and the midlife pining for what could have been. Judith is the wronged wife who sequesters herself (quite literally in a storage unit) in the memory of a love that supposedly you'd uproot yourself for. Funny thing is, she didn't. So how fantastic could it really have been, especially considering that they were inebriated during their profound moments of togetherness? Their love wasn't all that exciting either. It was rather boring and ordinary. But perhaps th...more
Susan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steve lovell

Sometimes we daydream back to past loves and wonder ‘what if’. It is natural, it is human to meditate on what could have happened if that girlfriend/lover/wife/mistress/ whatever had not drifted/blazed out of one’s life – had the relationship continued on, where would we be now. If all is fine in the present moment these warm whimsies pass, but if existence is barely bearable then such notions may not remain so tucked away.

The sad feature of ‘To Be Sung Underwater’ is that it had to end – always...more
Jim
Beautiful. Lyrical in its simple prose. Imagine if Hemingway were to write a novel that combines the best of THE HORSE WHISPERER with the best of THE NATURAL (in terms of relationships and destiny) and you might get a sense of this one. Willy Blunt was Judith Whitman's first love during her teenage years in Nebraska, where she had chosen to live with her college professor father after the breakup of her parents' marriage. But fate throws the young couple a late summer curve, and their plans go t...more
MyBookAffair
If it is a great summer read that you are looking for, then look no further than 'To be Sung Underwater', by Tom McNeal. It tells the story of Judith Whitman, an unhappily married mother of one who suddenly does not feel that she belongs in her own house any more. Her family has outgrown her, her husband is having an affair, her teenage daughter is embarrassed by her. So, she sets up home in a storage facility and makes up a new identity for herself.
I suppose we can all relate to the desire to...more
Mary (BookHounds)
Judith has been married to Malcolm and begins to wonder if she married the right man. Her thoughts turn to Willy, the boy she left behind years ago. The story flips back and forth between the present and the years before when she first met Willy. The story flows easily between the two time periods and you can easily get a feel for how Judith has matured. She has a dream job editing films, a lovely home and a man she thinks might be cheating on her. The drama builds effortlessly and the words are...more
Julie
I wanted to like this book. However, it fell short of "like." I found the main character, Judith, annoying and incapable of personal growth (and, for some reason, I envisioned her being played by Kate Capshaw à la Willie Scott--another annoying character--in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). And, it was easy to tell where the story was going to go very early on, and it wasn't good. It felt as if I were watching a bad reality TV show or someone unintentionally get hit by a slow-moving train...more
Suzanne Moore
This was a long, three-part story told by alternating chapters between the past and present. The main character is Judith Whitman who finds her life becoming less and less what she had first imagined. Of course there was a moment in time when she changed gears … now looking back she wonders if she did the right thing. She reminiscences about her first love and even creates an alternate identity to help her find him again. Willy Blunt has spent the last twenty-seven years holding on to memories a...more
Laurie
To Be Sung Underwater had components that were interesting, a tension of being "discovered," mysteries that intrigued, and a kindled passion that felt real, but what it really missed was an empathetic main character. Indeed, the author so carefully articulates that distance between Judith and her life that you don't feel very sorry for her. You feel as though Judith observes her child always in the third person. While this might have been the intent, the character would have been better served i...more
Michael
This is the story of Janet Whitman who has a secret longing for Willy Blunt, a carpenter, who was her high school boyfriend.

We learn about Janet in her high school days and see her as an intelligent, independent woman. Then the author moves to modern day when Janet is married and living in California, twenty five years later.

Janet was deeply in love with Willy and when he asks her to marry him, she accepts but tells him that it will have to wait until she finishes college.

Once she left small tow...more
Brian
Quite simply, this was a love story that spanned 27 years. The book centers around Judith, who has married a guy named Malcolm who seems like a nice guy, but he may or may not be having an affair. Many years ago, 27 to be precise, Judith was in love with Willy, who was a rugged, earthy kind of guy. But something caused her to drift away from him, and when she becomes an adult, she becomes obsessed with finding out where he was. The results may surprise you. Despite the very simple story, what sh...more
Mlg
Jun 08, 2011 Mlg rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: fiction
How many people in their later years, long to go back to a earlier time of life when things were simpler, and they were experiencing love for the first time? This is a beautifully told, lyrical story that belongs right up there with Gatsby and Heathcliff. Judith, the main character tells us the story of her youth and her first love, Willy Blunt, interspersed with the problems of her adult life, marriage, and job. Is her husband cheating on her? Will she connect with her first love? Can you repe...more
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Tom McNeal was born in Santa Ana, California, where his father and grandfather raised 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 F...more
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“Adolescence is a skin we never quite shed.” 17 likes
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