At some point in life, you’ve probably considered running away from home. In younger days, it was an ill-formed plan, a backpack full of toys and snacks, and a string of whispers to various friends, “Whatever you do, don’t tell my parents.” I wonder how many of us would admit to wanting to run away in adulthood too. There’s a certain appeal to it, isn’t there? Shedding work, annoying friends, the monotony of every day life, all for some new adventure.
So we can all relate to Judith, the protagonist in Tom McNeal’s newest novel, To Be Sung Underwater.
Eventually her running away becomes more of a retreat. She makes attempts to relive her past and eventually winds up questioning the path she chose, imagining what her life would look like if she’d made different choices. Can relate to that too, can’t you?
I could, and that’s why I was so drawn into this story; because, honestly, I wasn’t impressed with the writing. McNeal is supposedly an award-winning author, but to me, the characters were forced, which is ironic because I found the writing passive. I never enjoy reading an awkward sentence that could make a stronger point had it just been simply stated. And I never care for a pretentious vocabulary.
Despite the literary shortcomings, however, the story setup is quite brilliant. The book is divided into three parts, the first equal glances at Judith’s current and past lives; part two gives an in-depth look at her childhood; and part three ties everything together in real time. I loved gaining so much insight to the characters’ histories, a pure demonstration of how our pasts can effect our presents and futures.
If you’re looking for an easy end-of-summer read, I would recommend this book, just for the escape it brings. I’m not putting my “best book ever in the history of mankind” stamp on it or anything; but I think it’s nice to realize that we all question our crossroad decisions from time to time.
Haven’t you? Is there a time you’d go back to if you could?