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To Be Sung Underwater - Book of the Month

by Tom McNeal

Oh, for a simple love story where the only irony is in the mouths of the characters! I didn’t realise that was what I was yearning to read until I picked up TO BE SUNG UNDERWATER. In this, his second novel for adults, Tom McNeal takes classic themes and, with glorious yet seemingly effortless prose, makes them fresh and immediate.

This is a tale about mid-life angst, though, unusually, it is a woman that is in crisis. (The only other significant one I can remember is Cordelia in Anne Tyler’s LADDER OF YEARS). Judith is a successful TV editor living in Los Angeles with her banker husband and daughter. But, although all has gone to plan – and Judith does everything to plan – her contentment is compromised by secret doubts. She is not sure that the “easy unforced synchronicity” of her marriage to Malcolm can be described as love: it certainly doesn’t live up to the feelings she had for her first boyfriend, Willy Blunt, a carpenter in Nebraska. And when it appears that Malcolm is having an affair with his assistant, Judith is tempted to try and rekindle that early passion with Willy.

Tom McNeal writes beautifully, with admirable emotional intelligence. He manages to inhabit convincingly the mind of his female protagonist in her journey from smart but naďve girl through to unhappy forty four-year-old woman.

Tom McNeal's first novel, Goodnight, Nebraska, won the James A Michener Memorial Prize and California Book Award.

Clare Chandler

Published by Abacus, 448pp.

Read our interview with Tom McNeal.

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