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This one snuck up on me! I didn't realize how emotionally invested I was until I had tears in my eyes while reading the last chapter.
We all make choices....
Each chapter is titled after a group of specific birds, "An Exaltation of Larks", "A Murder of Crows", etc. with a description of the type of bird & usually an example of the phrase being used in literature or the symbolism of the bird in mythology. It's an extremely clever device that foreshadows what will occur in each chapter & provides additional context information related to both the plot line & ornithology.
And...let's not forget the crows! I enjoyed reading about Meridian's studies of a murder of crows over the course of the years. Her studies are another clever plot device that enhanced the book. They're extremely social animals with a high level of intellect including extremely impressive memory & communication skills. I have both a fascination & a tiny fear of crows so I found Meridian's studies of crows to be quite captivating.
I enjoyed this book. While the characters in the story are a bit one-dimensional, the relationships and interactions make the story come alive. Meri's naïveté, particularle after 20 years of marriage, doesn't match her intelligence. Yet the story reflects that all of us make choices, and often our choices have unexpected and far-reaching consequences.
Devotion en masse
I also enjoyed the science and history reflected throughout the book. While fictional, it is an educational and accurate portrayal.
I highly recommend this book for women's book clubs, as it will foster a lively and thoughtful discussion about the choices we all have made. The book is not appropriate for high school groups, due the several more graphic passage.
The book is now on my "recommended" list!
Meridian is very smart, and she wants to become an ornithologist, something very unusual for a girl growing up in post-WWI in America. With the support of her mother, and knowing she has the blessing of her late father she begins that journey. However, when she meets the brilliant lecturer Alden Whetstone and realizes she found her intellectual equal. After finishing her bachelor's degree, he convinces her to put off her graduate studies to follow him to his new top-secret job in Los Alamos, working to end the Second World War, through physics. With her life on hold, Meridian looks for meaning in her new surroundings.
On the surface, Meridian is the type of woman whose abilities, combined with an inner strength, are exactly what society at the time shunned. Her defiance of those norms wasn't very unusual, even for that time. However, even back then, people expected even educated women and their jobs to take a backseat to their husbands' careers. In this regard, when Meridian follows suit, we are not at all surprised. However, this was the first thing that disappointed me about this novel, even if being exceptional has somehow become the cliché in books of this sort.
Church tries to remedy this with Meridian's affair with a younger man later in life. With this part of her life, we get to know the passionate side of Meridian, and along with it, the coming-of-age realization of the depth of her regret for what she could have become. While this is heartening, here too we see a weakness in Meridian that we would certainly have preferred not to see. Of course, Church does this because otherwise, I don't think she thought that the ending of this book would have worked. Here too, I have to disagree to some extent, although not completely. The question is which is more of a cliché? A woman who knows she's repressing herself (or is a victim of repression), and stays in that situation anyway; or a woman who doesn't realize her potential until it is staring her in the face. In short, my feminist sensibilities tell me that Church didn't give me the kind of protagonist that I was looking for.
On the other hand, I also think that Church gave me exactly the type of character that was truly possible to imagine. Knowing this, you really can't help liking Meridian, mostly because Church's honest and open style makes her into a very sympathetic character. We do see where Meridian's rebellious side comes through, and we feel sorry for her when she can't take it just a little further. In my experience, when I see a character doing something I would have advised against, I usually get annoyed with the character (or the author). Not so here, where Church makes us see both sides of what Meridian is going through, and this makes us feel the same regrets that obviously Meridian is feeling. This isn't to say that Meridian is a pitiful character, since she does have enough small mutinies (and one very large one) to help us still admire her.
You can see my dilemma, can't you? While it seemed like Church sometimes allowed Meridian to take what seemed like the easy path, or at least the one most expected of women from her era, we also see that many of her decisions were fraught with difficult consequences. This dichotomy makes this book frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Not to mention the whole bird metaphor of their freedom that's closely observed, which despite the many references seemed a tenuous connection at best. Perhaps this is exactly what Church was going for, particularly if you think about this book's title.
Because of all this, I've been debating what star rating I should give this novel. I certainly want to recommend it, especially because I found Church's style to be inviting and compelling. However, in all honesty, because of my mixed feelings about Meridian, I'm unable to give it more than three and a half stars.
(This is a copy of my review that appeared on my personal blog The Chocolate Lady's Book Reviews.)