Love, loss and nuclear reactors via High Country News

Two new books explore the perspectives of women during the West’s nuclear boom.

Dozens of nonfiction books have delved into the history of nuclear facilities in the West and the Manhattan Project, detailing the Department of War’s secret acquisition of land in Los Alamos, the rapid emigration of eminent scientists, and their feverish work to build the atomic bomb. But when it comes to the human drama behind the science, several writers have turned to fiction, and women’s perspectives, to tell the story. TaraShea Nesbit’s poised 2014 novel The Wives of Los Alamos delivers the details of life in the top-secret town through the incantatory collective first-person voice of the scientists’ wives. In Nora Gallagher’s elegant 2007 novel Changing Light, set in 1945 Los Alamos, a female painter befriends a scientist injured in a radiation accident who can’t disclose any details of his work.

Now, Elizabeth J. Church’s debut novel, The Atomic Weightof Love draws on her personal history to spin a compelling tale of an intelligent woman whose dreams are deferred in service to her husband’s nuclear work. Church’s father was a research chemist recruited to the Manhattan Project. Her mother, a biologist, followed him to Los Alamos, where Church grew up.


The Longest Night, the propulsive, nuanced debut by Andria Williams, similarly feels like the book this author was born to write. Williams’ husband is an active-duty Naval officer, currently stationed in Colorado, and she conveys the interpersonal tensions of life in the military, both on the base and in town, with apt detail. The story begins in 1959, when Paul and Nat Collier move with their two young daughters to Idaho Falls, where Paul has been stationed to work on a clunky nuclear reactor. Even if readers know that this was the site in 1961 of America’s only fatal nuclear reactor meltdown, the suspense of The Longest Nightonly intensifies as it creeps toward that event.

Read more at Love, loss and nuclear reactors 

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2 Responses to Love, loss and nuclear reactors via High Country News

  1. yukimiyamotodepaul says:

    I only read The Longest Night. Unsettling feeling. The book is informative of the 50s culture, the work environment around the nuclear reactors, and so on. A good read, yet, the focus of the book is about a woman’s struggle–family, love romance, friendship… and not about the danger of the reactor or radiation exposure….

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