We agreed in the bookshop that the cover of the book “The Atomic Weight of Love” is beautiful with its images of many birds. Coupled with the unusual title, at a glance you wonder, “Is it about bird watching?…ornithology?…atomic bombs…? No, it is a debut novel by author Elizabeth J. Church about a young woman coming of age in the 1940s. We are introduced to Meridian, or Meri, who is an awkward teen at the start of the book, uninterested in what all of the other girls her age are fixating about; her obsession is the study of birds! Academically gifted and encouraged by her parents, she heads off to college to pursue the study of all things winged. She enters college as a biology major with the intention of continuing on for an advanced degree in ornithology. She stood out in the world of young men in her high level science classes at school.
What was entertaining about this book was the timespan, ranging from the World War II era through the next decades, as the culture in the country changed around Meri. The time period of submissive, proper women in the 1940s slowly morphed into a whole new world into the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Meri was far from a free spirit; she was, in fact, quite obedient. However, she had intellectual gifts and a passion for her studies. There was nothing stopping her from her educational and professional goals when she was in school, until, you guessed it; she fell in love and eloped. The journey continues with Meridian struggling between her husband’s expectations and what she had always wanted to be. Her struggle parallels with the social changes going on at the same time in the decades after the war.
The book leads us through her sacrifices and struggles, and her faithfulness and disloyalties. She tries so hard to make the right choices but often fumbles. She makes some unexpected decisions, some good and some bad; and she takes some big risks as she tries to find her way.
And what about the birds? Meri’s only comfort and foundation…the only time she feels like herself, is during her years-long observation of a family of crows who had an extraordinary community and support system, which is exactly what the troubled Meri does not have.
Enjoy the book!
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop