Sunday, May 21, 2017

Does the Atomic Weight of Love finally break the streak? That would be a resounding NO!

And the streak continues.  The Atomic Weight of Love, a debut novel by Elizabeth J. Church, is really good.  This one came to me through the Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club.  In fact, we meet this coming Tuesday night to discuss it.  And I will definitely be on the plus side of the discussion.  I gave it a 3.25/4.  What could the author have done to raise my rating?  Probably nothing.  I liked it from beginning to end.  And I even had some chills, tears, smiles, head shakes, "unhs," and raised eyebrows.  You know, there's not that much difference between a 3 and a 4.  Do I use certain criteria for coming up with the final number? Nothing formal. Basically, I finish a book and the number hits me.  It's no more organized than that.  I have been taken to task for the arbitrariness of my ratings.  But, hey, how many times in your life can you be arbitrary (putting aside parenting, for the moment)?   Blogging is definitely one of those times.

The premise has a backdrop of WWII and Los Alamos.  Here's a quick summary:

Driven, spirited Meridian Wallace is seventeen years old in the fall of 1941 when she begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago.  Once there, however, she becomes captivated by a brilliant, complicated physicist and eventually follows him when he is asked to work on a secret wartime project in Los Alamos.  As the years go by, Meridian - adrift in a traditional marriage, her own sense of purpose and passion lost - channels her scientific ambition into the study of a family of crows, birds whose free life and companionship are the very things beyond her reach.  But when she meets a young geologist, a veteran of the Vietnam War, she is awakened to changes and choices that she never thought possible.

This is an extremely well-written book.  It's so well-written that even the Author's Note at the end of the book reads beautifully.  But it's always readable.  I've got just a couple of observations for you:

1.  The author started writing this book at the age of 56 and got it published when she was 60.  You don't have too many debut authors that are Baby Boomers!
2.  When the book starts, the protagonist is 87.  That reminded me of Water for Elephants and The Storyteller.  I like when authors do that.
3.  There's a scene where the Vietnam War veteran that Meridian meets has a reaction that today we would call PTSD.  Although I didn't go to Vietnam, I certainly knew about it.  I actually joined the Army Reserve back in 1969 so that I could avoid Vietnam.  The scene was a little too close to home.
4.  There's a scene where Meridian's husband has his badge right below his pocket protector.  I immediately flashed on a Don Rickles show that I was at.  We were sitting close, and he noticed that I had a piece of paper sticking out of my shirt.  He commented on the guy with the pocket protector.  Fortunately, I escaped any further harassment, unlike others in the crowd.  Boy, I'm really going to miss him.
5.  There is a 1971 reference to Tab, the 1st diet drink by Coke.  I was a huge fan of Tab and am still a Diet Coke drinker, much to the chagrin of my wife, Joni.

I'm pretty sure that this will come as no surprise to you.  But I want to quote several passages to show you what a good writer Church is:

"...burrowing insects have engraved the wood with trails of hieroglyphic language."
"We were like children - wholly cared for, our needs met, but with minimal choices."
"Then I felt him kiss the tip of my nose like the single raindrop the comes sometimes minutes before the rest of the raindrops in a thunderstorm - the first raindrop that is an explorer."
"And then, in the softest whisper possible he wove these words into the strands of my hair, tattooed my scalp with them:  'Bless you baby.'"


  1. Sounds like a good book, Lloyd.
    And, the older I got, the funnier I found Don Rickles. Agreed, he will be missed.