Book Review: The Atomic Weight of Love
A Rapid Review
Publisher: Algonquin | May 2016
Format: Hardcover | Rating: 4½ stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.
Meridian Wallace’s dreams of becoming an ornithologist are interrupted when she falls in love with physicist Alden Whetstone. It’s the 1940s and typical of the women of the era, she puts her career on hold to allow her husband to pursue his. But in reality, he has no intention of allowing her to go back to her studies at the University of Chicago once they are settled in Los Alamos where his new job and work on a secret government project are located.
While Meridian attempts to be the stay-at-home housewife her husband desires, she is often unhappy and unfulfilled. Throughout the years she continues her study of birds and her research on crows in the canyons of New Mexico. It is there in the canyons where she meets Clay, a man who will change her life forever. With the backdrop of the turbulent 1970s, Meridian is forced to re-evaluate her life and her blossoming love for Clay.
“Crows mate for life, although it does not stop them from mating with others from time to time.”
I especially enjoyed the bird references and the chapter titles using different species of birds. The cover of the book is gorgeous and leads one to believe this is a book about birds: It’s not; however, birds do play an essential role in the story.
While I enjoyed the character of Meridian, in the early chapters I found her to be a little too passive and Alden to be too inflexible which brought to mind the stereotypical image of a housewife as in the 1950s TV shows. Fortunately, Meridian does mature and change as the years go pass.
Overall, the book is beautifully written and eloquently captures the essence of mid-century America and women’s roles, expectations, and evolution.
Source: Review copy provided by Algonquin Books.
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