Tag Archive | love

To Be Sung Underwater – Tom McNeal

Judith Toomey’s life “swerved” (her word) when she was forty-four. At the time she is a  Los Angeles film editor, married to a successful banker, Malcolm, and mother to a teenage daughter, Camille. Life is okay. Sometimes better than okay.underwater

…there were  whole hours and even days when Judith was visited by a dull ace that in spite of its unspecific origin seemed symptomatic of yearning, but there were also whole hours and days of productivity, good cheer, and reasonable warm fellow-feeling that she presumed she should, to be fair about it, call happiness, or something within inches of it.

But then one day, the “bird’s-eye maple bedroom set, handed down to Judith’s father by his grandparents, and by Judith’s father to Judith, and by Judith to Camille” ends up in a heap by the pool, ready to be collected and disposed of, and something in Judith unfolds, “a slow blossoming of resentment.”

To Be Sung Underwater is the story of a woman who suddenly finds herself in a life she doesn’t understand anymore. It’s not that she doesn’t love Malcolm or Camille, it’s just that a choice she’d made twenty-seven years earlier is something she can no longer ignore. Instead of allowing the furniture to be taken to the dump, Judith rents a storage facility and recreates her teenage bedroom. The space becomes an oasis for Judith –  a place where she can dream and sleep and remember.

And what Judith remembers is her time living with her father in Nebraska. Judith’s parents are separated because, as her father says “Our marriage, like all marriages, was happy until it wasn’t.” Judith’s mother is a free-spirited woman and her lifestyle irks Judith, so she eventually joins her father, an English professor at a small college. They live a quiet existence, sharing music and literature and stories from her father’s past.

Then, when Judith is sixteen, she meets Willy Blunt. He calls her “dangerous” and “his eyes, reaching in, exerted on Judith what felt like a subtle but actual pull, which alarmed her.” A year later, when they meet again, there is no denying their connection.

To Be Sung Underwater resonated with me in ways I am not sure I will be able to articulate. Judith makes her living piecing frames of film together to make a coherent whole, but the pieces of her own life no longer make sense to her. She wants to go back, but as Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” She wants to see Willy, and we know from the prologue that she does.

It has been a long time since he has seen her, a very long time, but he would have known her in a second. A fraction of a second. For a moment he feels he might soon waken from a dream, but for once, at last and after all, it is not a dream.

Reading that again, after having spent a few hours with Judith and Willy, is deeply moving. I loved everything about Willy. I loved his wry sense of humour and his deep and abiding love for Judith. I loved Judith, too. She’s smart and thoughtful; she cares about the past. I loved how McNeal’s book  tapped into the everyday moments that make up a life: eating and reading and sleeping and falling in love.

To Be Sung Underwater magnificently captures that very human impulse to revisit what we have lost and to try, where possible, to make ourselves whole again. This is a beautiful novel and I highly recommend it.

That’s amore

Listen here.

Boy meets girl – it’s the oldest story in the book, right? And now, thankfully for modern readers, we can also add boy meets boy and girl meets girl.

A couple of years ago I talked about love and the sorts of stories that make my heart skip a beat, or more often than not, break…a feeling I have to admitting I like just a little more than is probably healthy. You can read about what I said here.

I am a romantic at heart. Sappy, even. I’m not sure I grew up believing that a handsome prince was going to ride in on his white stallion and save me, but I did believe in happily-ever-after, although I am currently on the fence about that now.

My most favourite kind of love story is the one where the couple overcomes tremendous obstacles to be together – sacrifices are made – or, even better, that they love each other deeply but just can’t be together. Angst, baby. Buffy and Angel. Hello.

So since Valentine’s Day has just passed, I thought I would talk about romantic books.

I cut my teeth on my mom’s bodice rippers – Rosemary Rogers type stuff. Sweet Savage Love. You know, wild men who can’t be tamed and the virginal women who tame them.

Clearly romance novels have changed over the years – like 40 of them – when I first starting reading them. Some argue that modern romance novels are actually empowering because they are mostly written by women for women, women are generally the hero – or should I say heroine – of the piece and then there’s the s-e-x. In the modern romance novel, women are often in charge of their own pleasure, something I doubt Rosemary Rogers would have acknowledged back in the day.

All that said – I still have a soft spot for romance between two people who have to overcome horrible odds…and if they can’t actually overcome them – even better. Clearly, I have a type and it’s all about the doomed love. I am the person who still blubbers like a baby watching Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

Ultimately, though, I think there should – at the very least- be the potential for a happy ending, even if it never actually happens.

So, if you are feeling the love – or you want to feel the love – or, you just want to curl up in a ball and cry…I have some recommendations for you.

The Lost Garden – Helen Humphreys lostgarden

The link to my musings about this book predate this blog, but what you’ll find if you follow the link is an entry I did for Book Drum.

Humphreys is a Canadian writer and The Lost Garden is the story of Gwen Davis a young horticulturist in 1941 London. She gets a job leading a team of Land Girls at a neglected estate in Devon. They’re going to be growing crops for the war effort. While there she meets Raley, a Canadian officer waiting to be posted to the front. She also befriends Jane, a young woman whose fiancé is MIA. From these two people – in these fraught circumstances, Jane comes to understand the meaning of love. I was so enchanted with this book that when I was in England in 2007, my kids and I spent the day at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, an estate which is very much like the one Gwen works on in the novel.

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Can I just share a little bit from the beginning of the book?

We walk the streets of London. It is seven years ago. We didn’t meet, but we are together. This is real. This is a book, dusty from the top shelf of a library in Mayfair. The drowned sound of life under all that ink, restless waves breaking on this reading shore. Where I wait for you. I do. In a moment. In a word. Here on the street IMG_0846corner. Here on this page.

But it is shutting down, all around me, even now, this moment that I stopped. The story disappears as I speak it. Each word a small flame I have lit for you, above this darkened street.

The Lost Garden is a really lovely, and surprising love story.

So, I asked my eighteen-year-old daughter why she reads romance. She was pretty quick to point out that most of the love stories she reads are unrealistic and that she realizes that. However, that doesn’t get in the way of her enjoyment. She counts books like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook or The Last Song among her favourites. Nicholas Sparks definitely offers readers a heaping helping of schmaltz.

If you’re looking for schmaltz, you can’t go wrong with Robert James Waller’s 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison BridgesOfMadisonCountyCounty. You could read this book in an afternoon, it’s short. I don’t mean to suggest that Waller is a wordsmith, but this book broke my heart when I first read it. Francesca is a war bride and she lives with her husband and her kids on a farm in Iowa and one afternoon – while her family is away at a state fair or something – she meets a photographer named Robert who is in the area to photograph covered bridges. The encounter changes her life and his, too. Sacrifices must be made. Their story is discovered by her adult children after her death and they are shocked to realize their mother was more than the woman who made their meals and washed their clothes. People might know the movie with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and it’s a decent version, but the book is pretty good if you have a couple hours and a box of Kleenex.

So clearly, I’ve just outed myself – if a book can make me cry the writing doesn’t even have to be stellar.

Now – how about a YA romance?

easyEasy – Tammara Webber

This is for mature teens…it kind of just crosses the line, but it’s about a second-year university student named Jacqueline who has just been dumped by her boyfriend. She meets Lucas and he’s – I suppose – the proverbial bad boy, but he’s not really. This book hit all my guilty pleasures and then some. There’s tension galore, there’s a likeable minor cast and the two main characters are smart and kind and when they finally reach their happily ever after, you’ll be swooning.

Yep – there’s something super satisfying about a love story. Check out these:

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

I cried so hard when I read this book, I couldn’t even see the pages.

The Banquet – Carolyn Slaughter

Henry meets Blossom at Marks & Spencer. He’s a conservative architect; she’s a young shop girl. There’s is an all-consuming love affair. Carolyn Slaughter is one of my all-time favourite writers.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Two boys, true love. So beautiful and life-affirming.

Me Before You – JoJo Moyes

Just in time for the movie. Plain Jane meets handsome paraplegic.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

My first-ever romance. And you never forget your first, right?

What’s your favourite romance novel?