Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I found much to love about THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE by Elizabeth J. Church. 1) Crows! 2) Science! 3) Southwestern setting – I so enjoyed the references to Mexican food, New Mexico’s landscape, roadrunners, coyotes (so similar to Arizona’s). Of the New Mexico landscape, Church writes, “It seemed the line between life and death was easily crossed here.” Yes! 4) Fabulous, subtle parallels between crow behavior and human relationships.
Admittedly, first-person novels aren’t generally among my favorites, but this one is done extremely well. I was whisked away into Meridian’s world in a heartbeat and truly felt her struggle to be “the good wife” of the 1940s vs. her desire to feed her intellectual curiosities.
I don’t think I’m spoiling the book by praising the author’s ability to seamlessly illustrate the breakdown in communication that impact so many relationships over time. Church presents this sad reality with realism – never overly dramatic – and we are third-party observers watching the unfortunate decline, even if we might have guessed it was likely from the start. What’s more, Church juxtaposes the history of Los Alamos and its tie to the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the beauty of nature, while also weaving in another war, Vietnam. Again – so well done.
I was fascinated by this peek into the lives of so many brilliant women, who – due to the generation in which they were born – had to put their own intellect on the backburner. (I actually attended a presentation at Tucson Festival of Books where Elizabeth Church spoke. She was fascinating, her love for New Mexico so evident; she grew up in Los Alamos as a child, her father a scientist there. She lives there, still, today).
As for the birds (for you bird- and nature-lovers): Each chapter uses a different term of venery (hunting) as a title: A Tiding of Magpies, A Descent of Woodpeckers, A Charm of Hummingbirds, A Mumuration of Starlings (and many more). I learned much more about the Corvid family than I had previously (ravens are Corvids, and I have, for years, watched our family of nesters on the train trestle. They ARE such intelligent birds). A favorite quote/though from Meridian: “I was thinking about this: we believe in lovebirds. Not lovehorses or lovecows, or even loverbutterflies. Lovebirds.”
THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE by Elizabeth J. Church is about regret, ambition, the fragility of relationships, hope, the beauty and cruelty of human nature, the beauty of the natural world, the ramifications of war, the historic struggle of women to find their way and pursue their passions in a world where they were/are considered inferior, and a story about love in its many forms. I look forward to more works by Church.
(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on Feb 20, 2017. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)