BookBrowse Reviews The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Wives of Los Alamos

by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit X
The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2014, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2015, 240 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


This novel movingly sheds light on the cloistered – and claustrophobic – lives of the women married to the ground-breaking scientists at Los Alamos.

In her impressive debut, The Wives of Los Alamos, TaraShea Nesbit delves into the minds of the women married to the creators of the atom bomb. Nesbit spent years researching oral histories, memoirs, and archival documents to craft this unsentimental yet deeply moving story.

Her choice to write in the collective (we) voice of the wives works surprisingly well. In less capable hands, this treatment could easily grow irritating, even gimmicky, especially if the novel were a doorstopper in weight. Wisely, Nesbit keeps the story taut with spare but powerful prose that brings these women and their unique circumstances to vivid life.

The book opens in 1943 when across the United States, in cities and college towns, scientists' wives — many in their twenties and some from abroad — learn they'll be moving to the Southwest, where their husbands will work on a war project (See 'Beyond the Book'). The wives receive little or no specifics about the actual location, or the work to be done. Many of them with children in tow, or pregnant, arrive in New Mexico, to a military base surrounded by a barbed wire fence, with a sign that reads U.S. Government property. Danger. Keep out.

Ignorant about what their husbands are doing, the wives move into provided apartments or duplexes, believing they're "becoming part of something larger than our families, larger than ourselves." Though the mountains smell to these women "like lavender and lemon verbena," they also soon realize they've been transplanted to a landscape with sweltering temperatures, a water shortage, coyotes, snakes, and tarantulas. Their husbands work 12-hour days and sometimes don't come home even to sleep but instead drag Army cots with them to the lab, or what's called the "infamous Tech Area." Despite the long hours, the wives "are not allowed to ask questions."

As the characters develop, the wives' feelings of loneliness and isolation are often rivaled by their insecurities and flaws. The women gossip, they get jealous, they say unkind things behind one another's backs, they talk about whose husband or wife is cheating and playing "musical beds." Some complain about not having enough maids: Tewa and Spanish women from nearby pueblos and homesteads, or girls from a Catholic Indian school in Santa Fe. Though the wives do not always inspire sympathy, Nesbit's honest, unflinching portrayal reveals their humanness. The effect is compelling and keeps the pages turning. (Those concerned about too much domestic melodrama needn't worry. The book isn't "Desperate Housewives" on the mesa but a serious, sensitively rendered work).

Historical events and famous names are interspersed throughout, which often makes the book read like creative nonfiction. When one of the wives says, "Kitty Oppenheimer always seems to have plenty of gas in her tank," many readers will already know that Kitty was the wife of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos lab during the atom bomb's development.

As history unfolds and the truth behind their husbands' work is revealed, some of the wives cannot deny a profound ambiguity. When news reports confirm the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which lead to Japan's surrender, the wives wonder, "But how did this new bomb work? We cheered We won! but some of us thought privately quite the opposite: this was a new scale of human cruelty."

The novel will likely be more gratifying — and disturbing — for readers already familiar with Los Alamos's history and the creation of the atom bomb. (The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes is an excellent source.) An informed read will add insight, resulting in a riveting tension throughout the story. The Wives of Los Alamos is a provocative work that boldly re-imagines one of the most monumental periods in our history from an original — and long neglected — women's point of view.

Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder

This review was originally published in March 2014, and has been updated for the January 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Fake Like Me
    Fake Like Me
    by Barbara Bourland
    After years of trying to make it as a painter in New York City, the unnamed narrator of Fake Like Me...
  • Book Jacket: Hungry
    Hungry
    by Jeff Gordinier
    Noma, René Redzepi's restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, has widely been considered among the ...
  • Book Jacket: With the Fire on High
    With the Fire on High
    by Elizabeth Acevedo
    From Like Water for Chocolate to Ratatouille, writers have recognized the power ...
  • Book Jacket: Lanny
    Lanny
    by Max Porter
    At once beautifully poignant and hauntingly grotesque, Max Porter's Lanny is like an unexpected ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Beirut Hellfire Society
    by Rawi Hage

    A searing and visionary novel set in 1970s Beirut that asks what it means to live through war.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense…"
Entertainment Weekly

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win In the Full Light of the Sun

New from Clare Clark!

"Evocative prose and excellent pacing make this fine historical a must-read for art history buffs."
- Publishers Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A A A Day K T D A

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.