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To Be Sung Underwater

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  5,223 ratings  ·  951 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
Hardcover, 436 pages
Published June 2nd 2011 by Little, Brown and Company
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Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,223 ratings  ·  951 reviews

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Laura McNeal
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: better-than-pie
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
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Reading McNeal’s novel is like wrapping yourself up in a warm cocoon and never wanting to leave. This is the story of first love & the joy that comes of that innocence. It’s about the choices in life we make and how they might have played out differently. Judith, mid 40’s, has reached an impasse in her life: as a wife, a mother and in her job. When her daughter decides she wants a new bedroom set, the memories are set in motion. Judith recalls the love and hard work that went into refinishing th ...more
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
Jeanette (Again)
Jun 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: all-fiction, barf-bag
To be flung underwater and anchored there with a giant boulder to prevent it from ever resurfacing.
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 15, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
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
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: july-2012
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
Andy Miller
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Oct 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To Be Sung Underwater is a wonderful, heart-wrenching story of first love and true devotion.

For me a little slow at the get-go with character Judith (Judy) that I didn't particularly like, but the story took a gripping hold on me when carpenter Willy Blunt entered the picture. And while I didn't care much for Judy at the onset, my opinion of her really took a dive (view spoiler)

With family secret

1.5 stars. This book is weird. It had fantastic praise using words like beautiful, magical, gorgeous, smart. And I guess the writing is technically nice but it’s weird somehow. I kept looking on the back cover to check if the author was British. For example, within a couple pages two separate people were described as “peevish.” Not that this word is overtly British, it’s just that the way Malcolm and Judith (and the other characters) speak is quite formal, oftentimes condescending (imagine a sel ...more
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kristi Holmes Espineira
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 for ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laura by: Markus Zusak
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
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Leah
Judith, a 40-something is looking at her marriage but also looking back to her teenage years in Nebraska where she spent time with her father who is separated from her mother. Her teenage years were spent with her first love, Willy Blunt, a fabulous character and a great first love, but he has his flaws too. There's much retelling and reminiscing, but the book also touches on elements of growing up, the intricacies of marriage and past regrets. Should she try to contact Willy after all these yea ...more
Banafsheh Serov
Nov 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
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
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature, fiction
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
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I want to love this book because the writing was so rich, descriptive and beautiful. It was top notch. The characters were well-developed and at the heart of it all, it was a story about first love in Nebraska. As is so popular now, it jumped back and forth between past and present. For me, the past was interesting and the present, not so much...but that was in some ways the point. I can't comment on much without giving away a lot of the story but I will say that I cannot imagine many people rea ...more
Steve lovell
Jan 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing

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
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Andrew Hicks
Mar 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Last month, I read Tom McNeal's YA novel Far Far Away , which was flawed but enjoyable. That led me to McNeal's 1998 debut novel for adults, Goodnight, Nebraska , which was damn near the Great American Novel.

From there, I went straight into 2011's To Be Sung Underwater , which was also uncommonly absorbing though not quite as satisfying (and which also had less of a streak of ecclesiastical futility). And now, unless I go read the YA books McNeal co-authored with his wi
Carla Hostetter
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Beautifully written descriptions of Nebraska and full of deeply realized characters, I could not be more enthusiastic about this story told entirely from the viewpoint of Judith Toomey, a woman in her forties having a major mid-life meltdown because I simply did not like this self-centered woman. Judy is losing interest in her tedious job of film editing, believes her husband is cheating but never confirms this, and is as alienated from her own teenage daughter as she was from her own mother. Wh ...more
Nov 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this poignant story of first love. We first see Willy waiting for Judith to return to Nebraska. Judith has had a disastrous marriage and a teenager that she barely tolerates. She comes to the conclusion that the only way to mask the upheaval in her life is to return to her high school boyfriend and pick up the pieces of their long ago love affair. She finds it difficult to find Willy after all the years they were apart. When Willy and Judith are rejoined it is as if time stood still for ...more
Dec 25, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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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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