This historical novel is based on the story of the wives who accompanied their husbands to live at a science lab in New Mexico, but the women did not know that the men were building the world’s first atomic bomb. In the community of Los Alamos, there is secrecy and gossip, worry and pride. From 1943-1945, the women follow news of the war and gather clues from their men’s silence as they speculate together about what role their husbands may have in the war effort.
The author succeeds in her incredible performance of language. The entire book is written in first person plural, always using the pronoun “we” to collectively tell the story of all the wives living at the science base. For example, “We arrived newlyweds, or with a seven-year itch, or still great friends, or no longer in love but trying to keep it together for our children, or for ourselves” (page 18). They are all sharing the same experience of being wives, but they have very different, individual experiences of marriage. In just one concise sentence, the author conveys so much information that applies to the entire community of women. “We stepped off trains nine months pregnant, or carrying six-week-olds in clothes baskets, or holding the hands of our two-year-olds – our Bobbys and our Margarets” (page 14). A single sentence describes the overlapping experience of all the wives arriving with their children, yet succinctly presents the nuances of the different details within the individual woman’s experience.
Although the names of a few women are mentioned more than once, there are not any main characters. There is no protagonist. To be honest, this book does not really have a plot either. The Wives of Los Alamos is an exercise in language. The author carries the language beautifully all the way to the end and lends voice to the women’s shared experience at Los Alamos.
A Reading Group Guide with fifteen questions is included at the end of the book, making it a strong candidate for book groups.
*Bonus: If you are attempting the “2015 READING CHALLENGE” The Wives of Los Alamos fulfills the challenge to read ‘a book based on a true story,’ among other possible categories.
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Post by Jodi Griffith, Pinal County Library District Cataloger