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To Be Sung Underwater    by Tom McNeal order for
To Be Sung Underwater
by Tom McNeal
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

When Judith Whitman was fourteen years old, her father accepted a job teaching at a small college in Rufus Sage, Nebraska. Her mother refused to move from Vermont and told him that neither she nor Judith would go with him. But although Judith missed her father terribly, her mother actually seemed to be happier once he was gone.

Judith flew to Nebraska after a year to spend the summer with her father, with the intention of somehow talking him into coming back and reuniting the family. What she discovered, however, was that her father was happier in Rufus Sage than she had ever seen him, and she actually liked it there. During the summer, they gardened together, went for long walks in the country, refinished an old set of bird's-eye maple bedroom furniture that had belonged to Judith's great-great-grandparents for her to sleep on, bought a new mattress for the bed, and found a like-new quilt done in a style called Young Man's Fancy for a bedspread. At the end of the summer, Judith found that she was sad about leaving. She was so unhappy when she got home to her mother's house that after a short time she announced that she wanted to move to Nebraska to live with her dad.

Judith grew up, went to Stanford, and married Malcolm Whitman, whom she met in college and who became a banker. They had one daughter and Judith found a job as a film editor. Yet when this book begins, she finds that her life is coming apart. Her teenage daughter barely speaks to her, her husband might be having an affair with someone he works with, she has started to experience excruciating migraine headaches, and more and more finds herself thinking about those years when she lived with her father in Rufus Sage while she was finishing high school.

The story goes back and forth between the past and the present as we learn more and more about Judith's life. Gradually the Nebraska story takes over. Those people become the more important characters and that story becomes the major one. We learn what shaped Judith Toomey and why as Judith Whitman in the present she might be unhappy with her life. The novel is engrossing and the details that we wonder about are revealed to us little by little, gradually answering our questions about Judith. She struggles to understand why her past is having such an impact on her after so many years and we are kept in the dark about the surprising conclusion until almost the end of the book.

To Be Sung Underwater is a wonderful novel about growing up, falling in love, and the decisions that we make (or think we make) in life and how they affect us later. I recommend it highly.

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