The Atomic Weight of Love
Elizabeth J. Church
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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.
Did you ever have a teacher that had one of the monotone voices that would slowly lull you off to sleep? Well, that is this book. The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church is Meridian Wallace looking back on her life. Meridian excelled in science and math. She loved birds and wanted to pursue a career in ornithology. She gets a scholarship to the University of Chicago. There, Meridian meets Professor Alden Whetstone who is twenty years older than her. His intellect intrigues Meridian. Alden has to leave college (this is during World War II) for a special, top-secret project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The two continue their relationship long-distance and eventually marry. After Meridian graduates she moves to Los Alamos. It is to be just for a year and then she will go to Cornell (she was accepted and received a scholarship) for her graduate degree (you just know that she will never get there). Read The Atomic Weight of Love to see how Meridian's life turns out.
This book was lacking. It needed some life (like a life without color). Meridian's story is one that has been written about many, many times (it is such a cliche). The difference with this book is the addition of the birds (there is information on birds interspersed throughout the novel) and Meridian's study of crows (she continued it in New Mexico). There is also some information on Alden's work on the atomic bomb. I think in order to enjoy a book you have to like the main character. I did not find Meridian or Alden (especially Alden) appealing. Alden felt he was superior to other people because of his intellect. He was controlling and self-absorbed. I give The Atomic Weight of Love 1 out of 5 stars.
I received a complimentary copy of The Atomic Weight of Love from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the novel.