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The Atomic Weight of Love Bets On...

The Atomic Weight of Love

May 2016

Elizabeth J. Church’s debut novel, THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE, is one of those multi-layered books that has one thinking about the road not taken, as well as the changing roles of women through the years. The book opens in Chicago during the height of World War II, where Meridian Wallace is happily studying ornithology at the University of Chicago. As she pursues her course work, she meets a physics professor, Alden Whetstone, who shares with her his theories about motion and space and what allows birds to fly. She is intrigued by him.

Meridian is accepted to Cornell to continue her ornithology studies, but instead heads to New Mexico to follow Alden as he goes to work on a secret project that we know to be the atomic bomb. She always intends to return to school, but time and again those plans are dashed. Captured here is the way most women of her age followed the ambitions of their husbands and not their own.

Meridian studies a family of crows in a meadow near their home and becomes wrapped up in their lives. She envies their companionship and freedom, which is something her life lacks. It is often said that one can never see what really goes on inside a marriage, but here we are voyeurs into Meridian and Alden’s.

As the book moves towards the 1970s, Meridian meets Clay, a Vietnam vet and geologist. Although they are years apart in age, they build a world together, even as she continues to be married to Alden. For her, time with Clay mirrors the freedom of the birds. What happens next for Meridian is brilliant, as she claims her life for her own. The books ends with a very satisfying conclusion.

One thing: I am not too thrilled with the book’s cover. I saw the birds and thought it was a nonfiction work, even though the cover clearly states it is a novel. But I am not a huge fan of birds, so seeing so many on the cover was a turnoff. Still, I had been told I would love the book by those who know my taste, and they were right!

For book groups, there is so much to discuss here; I can see it becoming a huge book club favorite. Women will see themselves in this novel; it’s smart and honest. Pour some wine and get talking about it!

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church