Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Atomic Weight of Love Book Review

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

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For Meridian Wallace - and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s - being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother's sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn't expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he's recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a "traditional" marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it's not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.

Review by Brittany:

I requested a copy of this book through NetGalley because the blurb sounded intriguing to me.

I loved this book. There's something about the writing that really drew me in. I think it was really just smart writing with an easy flow that kept me engaged. Church covers a lot of ground in this book, but the events never feel rushed, and I never felt like I was missing out on anything important.

I loved that Church wrote such a smart female protagonist. Meri is an academic interest in ornithology, and her study of crows is what carries her through a large part of the story. Although her interest lied in academia, she gave up her studies in order to support her husband. I think that was an interesting view of what times were like in the 40s and 50s, and it really illustrated what the expectations might be for a woman during that time.

I also loved the way Church focused on Meri's relationship with Alden. This book gave good insight into their marriage, both the parts that kept Meri in love with him and the parts that really made her struggle to stick it out. There were times when Alden was so completely lovely that I could understand Meri's feelings for him, and there were others when he was so clueless that I found him just as frustrating as Meri did. I think all of these parts are pretty realistic to life, and it made the characters feel more real to me.

I think Meri meeting Clay and the development of that relationship was also well done. Although adultery is not everyone's cup of tea, I think that it was handled well in this novel. Clay offers Meri certain aspects of a relationship that Alden just doesn't seem to get. In the end, when Meri is faced with the choice between the two, it is hard to decide which one is the better option for her.

Overall, I loved this book. I thought it was well-written, interesting, and the characters were fantastic. I definitely recommend this book and am interested in seeing what else this author comes out with.

Notable quotes:

I didn't reveal the full breadth of my ambivalence, my sometimes disconcerting lack of any biological yearning for children.

We were all suddenly united in our need to forget the war, instead insisting on life and possibility.

We parted with me feeling tearful and angry, already regretful that I could not force myself to be more mature.

Maybe there is nothing more interesting than one's progeny. Maybe that's what I didn't understand.

I felt too eager, too giddy, and it wasn't right. But more than that, I was afraid Clay would sense those things in me, perceive me as ridiculous.

Flight is possible, but we have to take flight - it has to be a decisive action, a purposeful, brave act.

What I said was that relationships die a slow, incremental death of boredom, resentment, and lassitude.

I wanted a pain other than that of my heart. I wanted a pain that could be bandaged, anesthetized, and eventually healed.

Are we allotted a specific number of comebacks from heartbreak? Or is that what really kills us, in the end - not strokes or cancer or pneumonia - but instead just one too many blows to the heart?

I knew I had a hair trigger when it came to feeling insulted, criticized.

And it frightened me - that I needed him, that I cared, that I couldn't be in his world. That his boundaries were so permeable and that mine were so stridently defined. 

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