The Atomic Weight of Love

Written by Elizabeth J. Church
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In Elizabeth J. Church’s debut novel, she tackles a topic some might feel has been written to death: feminism. But in her capable hands, she breathes vigorous life into this subject as she tells the story of a woman, Meridian Wallace, and her marriage, for which she sacrifices much of her own life. Yet, in the end, Meri comes across not as a victim, but as someone who has seriously considered the questions of love, responsibility, ambition and sacrifice, and has made her decisions with eyes wide open.

Meri is a gifted young woman who is fascinated by the world of birds, the physics of flight and the strange, airy spaces where the winged creatures make their lives. Her dream, after college, is to get her Ph.D. in ornithology. However, before she has finished her undergraduate degree, she falls in love with Alden Whetstone, a brilliant physics professor fifteen years her senior. They marry, and he moves to New Mexico while she completes her degree. Then, she joins him.

Alden is working on the secret Manhattan Project and must labor long hours, leaving his young wife alone much of the time. Meri has been accepted to several graduate schools on full scholarship, but in the end, Alden convinces her that his work is more important than hers, which in a way it was—he was working to end WWII as quickly as possible, saving American lives in the process.

In spite of failing to meet the expectations of her time—she has no children and never really fits in with the other wives—Meri does follow a small part of her dream, though not in any kind of formal way. Church writes about long-term marriages with the skill of a brain surgeon, dissecting each nuance to render a rich, complex view of Meri and Alden’s life together.