There are some wonderful descriptions of New Mexico in The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church, although I was so captivated by the story that I hardly noticed them the first time around.

The Taos Gorge is relatively narrow, darkly shadowed basalt, and so completely impassable that a 1950s-era car remains stranded amidst the boulders.

taos gorge bridge

When I caught up to him, I jumped up and wrapped my legs around his waist. And there he held me, suspended on a cantilevered truss bridge designed to withstand ninety mile-per-hour winds (or so the placard said). We hung there, locked together above the dizzying depth of the world.

The nearby volcanic Jemez mountains are mentioned several times, as are the Anasazi dwellings in the light pink tuff or tuffa rock, with their hand- and foot-holds in the sides of the cliffs.

The clouds dissipated, and I was struck by the sensual beauty of that flesh-colored landscape against a pure blue sky.

And Meridian does make a connection to the landscape and the place–and not just for the abundance of crows.

I realized this was a place that would help me grow healthier, that permitted me wholehearted access to nature away from the noise and fumes of a big city. I quit smoking, and my lungs thanked me by quickly adapting to the high altitude and greater physical demands I was placing on my body.

She says that she, “found so much to learn from New Mexico’s nature, its history and cultures, that my mind was sated.”

She writes of the coyote, the cottonwood, and the pinyon pines.

She mentions a Kokopelli pin someone is wearing, the squash blossom necklace, a turquoise frog that Alden finds, and the Navajo rugs they buy for the house.

She mentions the petroglyphs, the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, and the Loretto Chapel.

Loretto chapel staircase

Spiral staircase in Loretto Chapel, Santa Fé

governors-palace-santa-fe-ben-van rooyen

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fé

kokopelli petroglyph

Kokopelli petroglyph

 

After re-reading these passages, I do feel a connection to New Mexico. But it’s a different connection than what I felt for Alaska in books like And She Was and The Alaskan Laundry, and I had to go back and re-read parts of the book specifically looking for these, admittedly beautiful, bits.

I think what’s missing for me is the people. Not just the Native American culture, though that aspect seems mostly absent in The Atomic Weight of Love, but the lives of regular everyday people. Of course, that is part of what is missing for Meri as well–as a wife of one of the Los Alamos scientists she had to be extremely careful in what she said to anyone about where she lived, what she or her husband did, the names of anyone she knew. That kind of guardedness makes friendships with “outsiders” strained, and must have contributed to her isolation and loneliness, which was already exacerbated by her difficulty in connecting to the other wives. The only people she was able to connect with were also transplants–Belle is from Texas, Clay is from Montana and Berkeley, Emma introduces herself as a “newcomer.”

In the end, I think the absence of New Mexico’s people is deliberate due to Meri’s isolation, and since that is such an integral part of the story, I can’t fault the author–it fits. My re-reading has given me a great appreciation for how much landscape Church was able to include, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the people of New Mexico through the other books I’ll be reading.

 

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