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In the spirit of The Aviator’s Wife and Loving Frank, this resonant debut spans the years from World War II through the Vietnam War to tell the story of a woman whose scientific ambition is caught up in her relationships with two very different men. For Meridian Wallace--and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s--being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.
What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.
Elizabeth Church’s stirring debut novel about ambition, identity, and sacrifice will ring true to every woman who has had to make the impossible choice between who she is and who circumstances demand her to be.
"By marrying them we tacitly agreed to a contract in which we would sublimate. They did not have to subjugate - we did that for them."
This is a deep and thoughtful reflection on the life of women from a different generation. Church's book is very well written and at times, quite unusual with its mixture of history, culture, science and art. At its heart, it investigates the role of women in the 50s and 60s and the sacrifices they made once married. Goals, dreams, talents were all forgotten as they followed where their husbands led.
The book also delves into a range of other topics. It extends the whole marriage theme and evolves it into the pursuit of empowering women. Other topics that are richly considered include: science and the atomic bomb; Vietnam war and returned soldiers; hippy lifestyle; ornithology, namely the study of crows; and generational love. All in all, I found the writing to be superior:
"the first snowfall begin as a light, dry powder and morph into those luscious, fat, lazy flakes that sashay downward and accumulate into weighty drifts."
This is the story of a young Meri who falls in love with a professor. He marries her and takes her away Los Alamos where he will pursue his scientific career. His career and life are to take precedent, and so Meri finds she has to abandon her own dreams to become the dutiful housewife. This then takes the expected route - Meri is miserable, doesn't relate to any of the other wives, ends up finding love elsewhere, and ultimately in the end reinvents herself.
A distracting issue is the big jumps that begin around the middle of the book - these were hard to follow and did not allow for substantial plot development. Too much time was passing too quickly and some things were glossed over rather rapidly instead of delving into the events that shaped these people's lives. It was also in parts extremely scientific:
"The experiment involved bringing a hollow hemisphere of beryllium around a mass of fissionable material."
Overall, however, the author provides prose that is poignant, as she attempts to correlate Meri's life with that of the crows she studies - how she struggles to find her wings, let go and take flight. Church provides the reader with many thought-provoking issues, at the heart of which is the examination of the sacrifices women make and the courage needed to take that solo flight.
On her 49th birthday, Anna Fergusson, Boston neuroscientist and dedicated introvert, arrives at an unwanted crossroads when the funding for her research lab is cut. With her confidence shattered and her future uncertain, on impulse she rents a cabin for a year on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. However Turtle Island, alive with sea birds and nesting Green turtles, is not the retreat she expected. Here she finds love for the eccentric islanders who become her family; for Tom, the laid-back turtle whisperer; and for the turtles whose ancient mothering instincts move her to tears. But Anna finds that even on her idyllic drop in the ocean there is pain, and as the months fly past her dream for a new life is threatened by a darkness that challenges everything she has come to believe about the power of love. Evocative and thought-provoking, A Drop in the Ocean is a story about second chances and hard lessons learned in the gentlest of ways."
"I simply carried on in the same old way because that's all I know. I'm a fraud. I've always known it deep down, and now I've been sprung."
It was refreshing to read a book about an older woman and the issues she was facing. Anna is 49 years old, an introvert, research scientist who has just had her funding cut. Wondering what is next in life for her, she decides to journey to a remote island off the Australian coast for a year. Throughout the year Anna will meet new friends, fall in love, but more importantly, make a journey of self discovery. Immersing herself in island life, Anna helps with the turtle research and becomes involved with other islanders in their daily lives.
One cannot help but appreciate the amount of research Ogden has gone into for this story. I enjoyed learning about the marine conservation efforts for turtle research and the very real issues surrounding Huntington's disease.
It is written so well it reads like a biography, even autobiography. You will listen to Anna and the array of emotions that run through her over the course of the year. Life on the coral cay was idyllic and, even when Anna travelled to visit her mother in Scotland, I likewise enjoyed the Shetland island descriptions - two extremes in island living.
The characters are real and the plot engaging, as you journey with her in learning that life at 50 can really only be just beginning. It was anything but:
"A pedestrian account of a dried up, middle-aged academic's broken dreams."