To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

Judith Whitman is a woman in her mid-forties who seems to have achieved everything she wanted in life.  She is married to a successful man, mother to a smart, beautiful daughter, owner of a big California house with a flourishing career as a film editor in that hardest of all businesses to break into, show business.  But at odd moments Judith is startled by uncomfortable thoughts such as:  If for one year all the movies were based on lives like mine, the industry’s kaput.

But Judith is wrong.  There is a part of her life that is plenty cinematic, and it revolves around Willy Blunt.  They met in small town Nebraska when Judith was seventeen and Willy just a few years older.  Judith was beautiful, smart, the recently relocated daughter of a college professor, a girl with plans.  Willy was the son of a farmer who worked construction and didn’t seem to think much about the future.  But any differences they had melted away in the face of the overwhelming attraction they felt for each other.

To Be Sung Underwater tells the story of that relationship, an affair that ends with one person walking away and one person left behind with a broken heart.  But as Judith realizes, she’s not finished.  She finds herself reliving moments of her time with Willy and trying to recapture the feelings she experienced then, feelings she now considers the most purely happy in her life.  So she hires a detective to find out what happened to Willy Blunt.  The editor in her wants to see if she can reshape their story.

This is a beautifully written novel.  The scenes pulse with detail and make you see, hear and smell the locations, especially Nebraska.  The characters are sharply drawn and the dialogue is pitch perfect.  The relationship between Judith and Willy is involving, sometimes funny and totally believable.  You really like them.  And like Judith, at the end of the book you wish you could re-edit their scenes and give them a different ending.

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