The Atomic Weight of Love

I love getting text messages from my library to advise me that books have come in for me to collect, often though, I have forgotten even requesting them or why I wanted to read them in the first place. This book was one of those. So I did a quick “google” to check out what the book was again and suddenly had a feeling of de ja vu!  A book with birds on the cover! (remember post “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover, when I told you about the letdown of The Birsman’s Wife)? Well this one seemed similar.  The only saving grace was that this one had the word “love” in the title.

I knew this book would challenge me right from the first few pages, I knew that I would have to work hard at it. Why, I can hear you asking. Let me set the scene for you.

Young female academic (named Meridian or Meri); falls for a physics professor (Aldon) who is 25 years her senior.  The story starts in 1941. Meri is studying Ornithology (birds) and is drawn to Aldon’s scientific mind. They start a courtship and marry.

The story covers WW2 and specifically the involvement of Aldon who is moved away by the government to work on a secret project – the atomic bomb.  During these years when they are separated, Meri continues her studies, but they have little communication and seldom see each other.

Like all good love stories, they are eventually reunited, and Meri moves to live with Aldon in the remote “town” where he is still working. This is when I really became drawn into the story.

Meri is so torn with this move as she is leaving her friends, and she forgoes her dream to finish University.  She has to settle into a community where she doesn’t fit in. She is expected to be the prim and proper trophy wife.  Its a mans world. Being in the 60’s and 70’s where there were those stereotypes of what females and wives should and shouldn’t do, should and shouldn’t say. As time went on, the age gap took its toll and their marriage was put under pressure. Aldon, as brilliant as his mind was, was not able to fulfill Meri’s needs. She took solace in the studies of a crow colony, where she would go most days to document their movements, family structure, conversations and eventually she would draw and paint them.  This was the only place where she could go and feel herself, feel worthy.  It was here that she had a chance encounter with a “younger” man.

Enter “Clay” into the story.  He awoke her senses, in mind, spirit and body. He made her feel things she had never felt before. She had lost her fighting spirit, she was tired of not putting herself first and feeling deprived. She wanted to be wanted.

Clay was a returned Marine who had his own demons and quirks (hippie, vegetarian). Now the generation gap was reversed. She helped him deal with his demons, while he helped her see that she was worthy. Worthy to keep chasing her dreams that her husband had locked away. She started to find her voice and believe she could be anyone she wanted. She began to rediscover the person she once had been. She found things that she loved doing, like drawing, painting and writing and formed a “women’s group”.

But, there is always a “hiccup” to a good love story or love triangle; Meri and Clay’s relationship developed until he went off to college, leaving Meri to make a choice. Her husband wasn’t liking the new and changed Meri; by this time he was in his late 60’s, she her mid 40’s. There were issues there in the marriage and with his health. The story meandered through Meri’s life and the subsequent choices that she had to make along the way.

I’m not going to give away the ending though!


I mentioned above that this book would challenge me, and it did.  It is written in a “formal way”, as one would speak back in the 50’s when they are highly educated. This book also had sooooo many words I have never heard of before:

paramecium, ornithology, monozygotic, dizygotic, corvus, peregrinations, armoire, lassitude, sopaipilla, quotidian, lederhosen, nascent, petroglyph, lucidum, granulosum, conquistadors, arbesques, stirations, debridement.

There were 2 passages in this book that struck a chord with me:

“If you really want to write, if you really want to speak through your writing, to communicate anything of value, anything worth saying – well – you have to be FEARLESS.”

“Sometimes to get people to think, you have to offend. Define yourself – don’t let your imagined reader define you. Say what you have to say.” (The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J Church pg 260).

The story touched on the changing role of women in the last part of last century. It is a story about love, feminism, determination, finding yourself, re-emerging.  It’s about finding your own flight path. There were many things in this book that I could relate to with my own “emerging” journey. A good read.

Rating:    /5

Would you read this book? What are you currently reading, please share x





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