One of these days, I'm going to write a post that is a dedication to every incredible book Jill Broderick has ever "made" me read. I get regular e-mails from her with lists of books that she thinks I shouldn't live my life without, and you know what? 90% of the time she's right.
"To Be Sung Underwater" was one such book. In her e-mail, she briefly said "OMG - still reeling from this one". Then there was her review, which really says it all in ways I couldn't even begin to match. So there was really no doubt that I would be reading this one. I was thrilled that my library had the audio.
Synopsis: Judith is a 44 year-old woman who has achieved all of her dreams on paper...prestigious film editing job in Hollywood, married to a successful banker, and mother to a teenage daughter. In reality, though, her daughter is distant and rebellious, her husband is probably having an affair with his assistant, and Judith can only reminisce about her first and most memorable love affair that took place her senior year in high school with Willy Blunt. Maybe he was the one that got away...although she only has herself to blame, since she turned her back on him once she had moved away to college. Judith withdraws from her life physically and mentally, until she decides that her only option is to find Willy again.
The narrative alternates back and forth in time between the miserable now and the magical then. Back to when Judith was swept away by the eternally happy, ever kind and adoring Willy who introduced her to moonlit cookouts, swimming in the buff, and the kind of love that endures.
My thoughts: I found myself confused and conflicted for 60% of this book. In fact, the whole novel was a series of contradictions. On one hand the writing had moments of total gorgeousness. Here is one passage that literally stopped me in my tracks and forced me to stop vacuuming to write it down. Judith asks her father "What are we here for?". At one point, her father only says "That is the kind of thing no one sober tries to publicly answer". Later though, he tells her this:
"I am sure one of the things we're here for is to make certain that those whom we love fall asleep each night assured of that love".
I'll probably never forget that line, right? The characters however, were not all that likable, which is usually a problem for me. Judith as a teenager had a smart mouth and was aloof. Judith as an adult was cold and self-absorbed. The only time she was likable was when she was with Willy. Her daughter was spoiled, her husband was a cheater, her mother was a spacey hippy. Strangely, though, as a whole, it all worked. And the glue that held it all together was Willy. As a reader, you couldn't help but fall in love with the man. He was honest to a fault, romantic, smart, but had a little bad boy edge if his back was against the wall.
Everything outside the realm of Judith and Willy would indicate that love and the institution of marriage is a lost cause. But between Judith and Willy, there existed a type of love that is enduring and selfless, even spiritual.
And about two-thirds of the way through the story, I stopped being a passive bystander and became completely immersed and compelled. Everything became achingly beautiful, poignant, innocent, bittersweet...and probably a whole bunch of mushy, trite words that will make you roll your eyes. What is important for you to know, though, is that by the end I fell apart into a million pieces, and I was left with an image that will be stuck in my head for, like, ever.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this audio book was Susan Boyce, who was new to me. Based on her resume, she seems to narrate books outside my preferred genres (romances, mostly). I had some mild issues with her narration of this book. She came across as stiff and prudish, which may have had some impact on my initial impressions of the characters. But even so, my love for what was happening in the book carried me beyond her voice.
4.5 out of 5 stars