For Meridian Wallace—and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s—being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.
What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.
In her debut novel, “The Atomic Weight of Love” (Algonquin Books) Elizabeth Church examines the sacrifices made by the wives who followed their husbands to Los Alamos during World War II’s Manhattan Project, and how those women redefined and reclaimed themselves during the tumultuous decades that followed.
Elizabeth J. Church was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Her father, a research chemist, was drafted out of Carnegie Mellon University where he was pursuing his graduate studies and was sent to join other scientists working in secret on the Manhattan Project. Elizabeth’s mother, a biologist, eventually joined her husband in Los Alamos.
While “The Atomic Weight of Love” is not their story, it is the story of many of the women who sacrificed their careers so that their husbands could pursue unique opportunities in scientific research. Along with other Los Alamos children, Church grew up in an environment that gave her ready access both to nature and to extraordinary female teachers who had advanced degrees in mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, literature, and other disciplines.
Elizabeth Church practiced law for more than thirty years, focusing on mental health and constitutional law issues. When her husband’s premature death from cancer taught her the brevity of life, she first paid off his medical bills and then walked away from the law to pursue her original dream of writing. This book is the result of her efforts – a dream come true at the age of 60 (proof that it is never too late to pursue one’s dreams). She has written extensively for legal publications and scientific journals. Her short story “Skin Deep” won first prize in Literal Latté’s 2001 fiction contest, and “Lying with Dogs” was published in Natural Bridge in 2002. “The Atomic Weight of Love” is her first novel.