We’re incredibly excited about the new release The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church that arrived on May 3rd! We had the opportunity to talk with Elizabeth and ask her about her latest novel… one I can’t wait to read!
But first… a bit about the book.The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
(Goodreads)Published by Algonquin Books on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, General
In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.
In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.
Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.
Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.
Describe THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE in 5 words.
Thwarted desire. Inertia. Catalyst. Triumph.
How did THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE come about? What made you think you had to write this story?
It is an homage to the women of my youth in Los Alamos, women of immense intelligence, advanced educations, and horizons limited by the culture of the times. It is a contemplation of relationships, the lines we draw, the importance of consciously defining “love,” and of the dangers of knee-jerk self-sacrifice and self-abnegation (particularly female traits, still). I wanted to inspire men and women to overcome inertia and to reach for long-held dreams – no matter the hurdles.
THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE is set in the 1940’s and Meridian is determined to get her PhD and become an ornithologist… how much research did you have to do on these topics and what did that entail?
The book spans time from the 1920’s (Meridian’s childhood) through the present, when Meridian is an elderly woman. I certainly had to research American news/culture during the WWII years (rationing, newsreel footage and such), but I also was fortunate in having some of my mother’s memorabilia from the time. I was happy to reach the Fifties and onward, times I’d lived myself, as less research was required – and what was required was a pleasantly nostalgic romp through fashions of my time, old television commercials, magazine ads, and sewing patterns. There are advantages to being sixty when a novel comes out – it counts as “historical” fiction, even though I’m merely recounting my own times.
THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE really focuses on a woman who challenges the norm, and is ambitious and determined, were there real life inspirations for your characters?
My mother, the women of my childhood, myself. I grew up with three brothers and no sisters, and so I was from the start acutely aware of the advantages boys received that I did not – how the world favored them. I was innately programmed to challenge, and I did so, vociferously (e.g., I led a kindergarten protest over nap times, which I found ridiculous and redundant, since I knew I’d be required to nap again at home). My mother lost her husband at a young age and raised four children on her own, in a time and culture that neither championed nor eased the path of single mothers. She was an extraordinary example of fortitude and resilience. I was also fortunate to benefit from and participate in the women’s movement, to be able, for example, to go into the practice of law (that was still largely male) and to learn to articulate and make forceful, persuasive arguments.
Can you share (without spoilers) a line or section of THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE that is your favorite?
“But Alden never knew how to measure the weight of a sigh. He could not predict the moment when the petal of a spent rose would release and descend. Alden could not tell me when a screech owl would cry out from a darkened pine bough outside my bedroom window and insinuate itself into my dreams.”
What are you currently reading?
An advance reading copy of Caroline Leavitt’s new novel, “Cruel Beautiful World.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Do NOT listen to naysayers –not even those who love you and profess to have your best interests at heart.
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
I have a second novel finished and on its way – someplace. A third novel is beginning to take shape in my head – I have the main character in mind, and I’m just waiting to see what she’d like to do. She’ll tell me, I’m certain.
Tell us 3 random facts about you.
I have bad arthritis in nearly all my joints.
I adore my pit bull, Darwin (who keeps me sane and interrupts my work).
I adore the Scotsman’s accent.
Favorite Song (right now): “A Case of You,” by Joni Mitchell, performed by Joni Mitchell
Favorite Book (right now): “The Regeneration Trilogy,” by Pat Barker
Favorite TV Show/Movie: I don’t have television; I like JACKIE BROWN – for the amazing dialogue, in particular the scene in which Jackie Brown and the character played by Robert Forster discuss getting older.
Favorite Word: Oh no! – you don’t get me to limit the vast galaxy of wondrous words to a single favorite. Hunh unh. No way. No how. I’m not doing it!
Favorite Color: The golden-green, indescribable color of my dog Darwin’s eyes – particularly when he’s searching for rabbits on our morning hikes.
Favorite Curse Word: “goddamnedmotherfuckingsonofabitch” (it was my husband’s favorite)