THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE by Elizabeth J. Church


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Church’s debut novel explores the relationship between sacrifice and love.

Set during World War II and the decades leading up to the Vietnam War, the novel follows Meridian Wallace as she transforms from a bright ornithologist-to-be studying at the University of Chicago into an unhappy housewife. While in college she meets Alden Whetstone, a brilliant physics professor who joins the team of scientists at Los Alamos, New Mexico, to work on a top-secret wartime project. The bookish Meridian falls in love fast with Alden’s intense intellect, and the two are married in 1944, at the end of Meridian's junior year. Once she graduates and moves to New Mexico, however, Meridian becomes disenchanted with married life; it isn’t the passionate endeavor she had in mind, and soon she’s off the path to getting her Ph.D. Years later, she falls in love again, this time with a young Vietnam veteran, and is forced to evaluate the choices she’s made up to that point. The story, though spanning several decades, never loses momentum. The writing is descriptive and clean. Church’s commentary on the American nuclear family, particularly the expectations placed on women, showcases iterations ranging from doting housewives and mothers who are content in their roles to the rebellious. Each sentence drives the plot further, exploring love’s limits and its spoils. But it’s Church’s exploration of Meridian’s role in her relationships that is the most gracefully executed feat of the novel. Even while describing Meridian’s disappointment in her marriage, Church’s writing is never overly sentimental. Meridian's voice is poignant, a mixture of poetry and observation: “I cannot escape the beating of my 87-year-old heart, the constancy of it, the weariness of it,” Meridian says in the prologue. “I cannot say with scientific certainty how many times over these many decades…it catapulted with love or capitulated in grief.”

An elegant glimpse into the evolution of love and womanhood.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61620-484-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2016


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