This set of novels ranges from a meditation on marriage to a hotly debated topic of the day, to a child’s experience of tumult, to a fun historical novel set midst the Paris art scene of the 1920’s. Perhaps one will tickle your reading palate!
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
This is a wonderful novel! Church charts the life and long marriage of Meridian, a wannabe scientist who marries Alden, a much older professor whose intellect excites and engages her own. A physicist, he is recruited to work on the atomic bomb in the New Mexican desert, and she shelves her own ambitions for graduate school and a career as an ornithologist.
The setting in the closed and cloistered town of Los Alamos mirrors the constraints and restrictions faced by women in the 50’s and 60’s, pre women’s lib. Meridian decides to study a community of crows, but her frustration builds over Alden’s unwavering focus on his own career and his apparent disinterest in her, leading her to accept fulfillment and validation elsewhere. A novel about science, the burdens and joys of love and sex, and the power of female friendship. Church’s writing is meticulous and exact and oh, so satisfying. I’d happily re-read this book right now!
Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
I have read all of Haigh’s previous novels, and she’s an author whose work I admire and respect. I was predisposed to like this latest work, but found myself disappointed. The setting is Bakerton, the old coal mining town in Pennsylvania which features in her earlier work, but this time the focus is on fracking—those salesmen who cajole and persuade working class folks to sign leases for drilling on their land and the townspeople whose land and lives are affected. Rather than being straightforward plot or character-driven fiction, the book is episodic and goes back in time, for example to 1979 and Three Mile Island, where you re-encounter some of the characters. I read three quarters of the book, 76% according to my Kindle, and then set it aside. Not sure I’ll go back.
In the Country of Men by Hisham Mitar
Published in 2006, Libyan writer Mitar’s semi-autobiographical novel is receiving new recognition with the arrival of his memoir, The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between. Thanks to my friend Margaret for introducing me to this author and this novel.
Set in Tripoli in 1979, it’s told from the perspective of a 9 year old boy who is aware of strange goings on, but isn’t old enough to comprehend the underground movement to try and topple Qaddafi. He knows that his father goes off on business (supposedly out of town), that his mother is “ill” from some under-the-counter drug she takes periodically, and that the father of one of his friends is seized and eventually tortured.
Events and people are vague and shadowy, like a blurry photo lacking clarity. You, the reader, initially get hints of what’s transpiring, then a sense of what the relationships are and how boys and men protect, but also hurt and betray one another. A puzzle piece here and there slots in, but never the complete picture. I found this novel challenging to read and also haunting. In retrospect, I wish I had read it in a more compressed timeframe.
Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson
This novel was my introduction to Canadian Jennifer Robson whose three novels all take place during or after WWI and feature well born, aristocratic young women who are finding their place in the world. Helena, 28 years old in England in 1924, has been very ill and is extremely dependent on her parents after a broken engagement. She is invited to Paris by her unconventional aunt and taking up the offer, enrolls at an art school. The novel is her coming of age story—discovering whether she’s an artist or not, making friends who are nothing like her English contemporaries, and meeting a man who both attracts and worries her. This is the perfect bonbon for a summer’s afternoon. Light and pleasing.
Porch photo by JWFarrington (some rights reserved); Hisham Mitar from theguardian.com