The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J Church
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Find it here: The Atomic Weight of Love
This ARC was provided by Algonquin Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.
In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.
Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.
Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.
Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a thoughtful book about what it meant to be woman discovering yourself in the 1940’s. At first Meridian seems to have it all, a college education and a thesis studying the language and behavior of crows, and a man who loves and inspires her. However, things start going wrong after her marriage, when she discovers that she is expected to follow her man and sacrifice her dreams in the process.
Meridian is a strong character and she struggles with the confines life has put on her. She tries to be a happy and supportive wife but finds that this is hard to do when you harbor resentment and your husband is oblivious to your feelings. As the years progress we see Meridian sacrifice more and more for a marriage that will not bring her happiness. While I could have quite cheerfully left Alden alone in the desert, it is clear to the reader that despite his faults Meridian still loves the man she first met.
I loved the way each chapter opened with a description about various birds and the crow diaries that Meridian keeps are fascinating. I also liked the desert setting which really added to the feelings of isolation with which Meridian suffers. The title is also very apt as atoms are a central part of the story and the cover is intelligent as well as beautiful, I mean look at it!
Who would like this? Ultimately this is a book about one woman’s life and the choices she makes against the backdrop of what society expects. So I would recommend this to those who like stories with strong female characters and a feminist viewpoint.
Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Atomic Weight of Love
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