This is a lovely book written with tenderness and perception; I didn’t want to get to the last page (although of course I wanted to read to and including the last page). When one finishes such a masterful novel, I’m never certain that the next book will be as good.
Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, writes that “You don’t so much read To Be Sung Underwater as you’re consumed by it. The characters are unforgettable. The writing is staggering. More importantly, though, it’s the courage of this book that sets it apart. It’s the bravest, most beautiful book I’ve read in a long time.”
In 1879, the furniture before them had been created by A. A. Copeland & Sons of Philadelphia and shipped to Rufus Sage by rail. Harry Toomey, Judith’s great-great-grandfather and the town surveyor, had hauled the packing crates from the station to a farm owned by a friend, where the furniture was stowed in a barn. The furniture was identical to the set his young wife had seen while visiting a family friend in Des Moines. She’d gone so far as to write to the company, whose response she had handed with trepidation to her husband. He had looked at it long enough to memorize what it said, then folded it and dropped it into the fire. He was sorry, he said, but buying furnishings they couldn’t afford wouldn’t give their marriage a good beginning. Harry Toomey was an absentminded man. He forgot birth dates, he forgot names, and he was not above playing this forgetfulness to his own advantage. When the day came that marked the first anniversary of his marriage to Christianna Gardner, he let most of the day pass without notice. Early evening, Christianna carried the Rufus Sage Record and a covered dish to her great-uncle, a widower who lived three doors down the street,something she did every night of the week. While there, she visited perfunctorily, straightened the house, and washed the day’s dishes. This generally took thirty to forty minutes. During this time Harry Toomey and two friends set to work. They took away the Toomey’s crude bedroom furniture and replaced it with the fine bird’s-eye maple. By the time Christianna returned from her great-uncle’s, the bed was made, all of their clothes were neatly folded into the drawers of the chiffonier, and Harry Toomey sat by the fire reading, just as he had been when she’d left forty minutes before. Christianna went into the bedroom to put down her purse, as he knew she would. He didn’t speak or follow her into the bedroom. She was in the bedroom perhaps five minutes. When she came back out, her face was pink and discomposed, as if she’d been crying. She said one sentence: “I knew you wouldn’t forget.”