Friday, May 6, 2016
Book Club Pick: The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
#1 Indie Next Pick, May 2016
“Church's debut novel explores the relationship between sacrifice and love...Church's commentary on the American nuclear family, particularly the expectations placed on women, showcases iterations ranging from doting housewives and mothers who are content in their roles to the rebellious. Each sentence drives the plot further, exploring love's limits and its spoils. But it's Church's exploration of Meridian's role in her relationships that is the most gracefully executed feat of the novel. Meridian's voice is poignant, a mixture of poetry and observation...An elegant glimpse into the evolution of love and womanhood.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Oh, what a incandescent debut! From the atomic bomb tests at Los Alamos to the Vietnam War protests to the fascinating lives of crows, Church follows one extraordinary woman, who is brave to enough to challenge the times, take defiant wing, and chart her own extraordinary flight path. So engrossing, I couldn’t wait to read another page, and so alive, I never wanted the story to end.” —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You
A sweeping epic, The Atomic Weight of Love, has everything a book needs: a strong woman who challenges herself and her times, the promise of passionate lifetime love, a trip across America, a husband (who is much older) and has top secret clearance during WWII, an intelligence and passion for living and work, and all the unanswered questions of life.
Meridian follows her scientist husband to Albuquerque where she will stay while he works on a secret government project in Los Alamos. Alden and his team are working on a way to defeat the enemy: the atomic bomb. He cannot tell Meri what he's working on but he says, "It has the power to end the war...It also has the power to end life as we know it. It will change the world." Meri herself is a scientist, and as spouses, Alden and she have lengthy scientific discussions. She is a brilliant student of ornithology and just beginning her labor of love: the study of crow behavior.
Putting her graduate studies on hold, Meri follows Alden back to Los Alamos after the war and feels defeated herself. She longs to finish her degree and do real work in her field and questions whether her work is less important than Alden's simply because she's a wife. She doesn't want to be like the other wives of Alden's colleagues and she refers to them as "fungible" (great word: look it up).
Meridian becomes a housewife and tries to fit in--throwing dinner parties, making special meals, trying to make friends with fungible women, but it's all not enough. She feels lost and trapped. She continues to observe crows in the canyon and one day is surprised to meet a young man, a soldier back from Viet Nam. Suddenly, everything changes for her. Mari experiences true freedom for the first time in her life and it's exhilarating and it's frightening.
The Atomic Weight of Love is full of promises, those kept and those let go. Circumstances can change in a fleeting second and the weight of life's decisions and those we love influences the decisions we make. Meridian looks back not with remorse but with knowledge and love.
Recommended for adult readers and book clubs. This is not a feel good book. This is a book about real life and it's not uplifting but nonetheless an important read. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of women, like Meridian, have encountered ties that bind, ties that choke, ties that kill.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.