In this media series, I divide my posts into two parts: Part 1 for those who haven’t started it yet, and Part 2 for those who would like to delve deeper into the work. Image description: a person stands on a stack of books, reaching towards a crow.
I enjoyed the focus on birds in The Atomic Weight of Love. Meridian specialized in crows, observing them and keeping journals of her observations, both in words and pictures. A couple of the crows she observed had mutations, possibly related to the bomb that Alden, her husband, helped develop. This shows that war has devastating effects on animals, in addition to us. Meridian’s narration still added a touch of nuance to my worldview, since she and the people who worked on the bombs believed that dropping them was the only way to end WW2. This doesn’t mean that I agree with using nuclear weapons, just that I now have a better understanding of the developers’ motivations.
Alden dismissed her crow research, but several people tried to encourage her with it. She had a former professor, friends, and a fling who supported her wish to go to grad school for a more advanced degree in ornithology, the study of birds. For most of her life, she focused more on Alden’s discouragement than on others’ encouragement, which I find sad. It’s natural for humans to focus more on the negative than on the positive, but it’s possible for us to fight that impulse. Eventually, she found a new dream, and started helping girls realize their dreams (Church 325). She turned her pain into something positive, which I find inspiring.
It didn’t seem to me like Meridian’s decision about whether to stay with Alden fit with her character. One reason that she narrated was that he was more intellectual than Clay, but Clay participated in her crow research instead of dismissing it like Alden did, so it seems like he would’ve actually been more intellectually stimulating for her (Church 297). I also find it a little alarming how highly she prioritized intelligence in a partner. She seemed to care more about a partner’s intelligence than things like how well she got along with them or how kind they were. I think this novel is a good reminder to not focus too much on one trait in a partner to the detriment of others.
Alden had assumed that telling her an anecdote about his earlier attempts to have kids would’ve made it clear that he wanted children, but she didn’t realize that (Church 138-139). They got into an awful fight about it. It’s important to be direct about topics like this with a partner, and to discuss them early.
I found it interesting how Meridian’s interests shifted from science to art and poetry over her lifetime. That made me think about how my interests have changed, too. For example, when I was still in college, someone started a psychology club. If I had realized back then that psychology was a passion of mine, I would’ve made a beeline for it, but now I know how much I love it.
I found it fitting that she founded an organization to encourage girls, since she had dealt with so much discouragement from Alden. I would’ve liked a bit more detail about the impact that it had, but it was still a sweet ending. That part of the novel has a powerful message about how women can fight sexism by encouraging each other to do what we want to do.
Church, Elizabeth J. The Atomic Weight of Love, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016.