The Wives of Los Alamos

I don’t think I’ve ever voluntarily (as in, not for school) read a book more outside of my comfort zone than The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit.

This “novel” — I use that term loosely because sometimes it reads like fiction sometimes it doesn’t — is about the women whose husbands worked on the atomic bomb during World War II, specifically at the testing site(s) in New Mexico. These women had to pick up their whole lives and move to completely uncharted territory without knowing a thing about the place or why they were moving, all in a moment’s notice. They arrived in New Mexico before there were any homes, hospitals, schools or stores in the “town”, and they had to work with very little to create a decent existence for their children and husbands. They didn’t know how long they’d be there for, they couldn’t communicate with anyone outside the area except the occasional letter to their parents and they certainly couldn’t tell anyone where they were. (This book made me wonder if wives back then were tougher than us gals now, because I don’t know if I would ever put up with that.)

Throughout their time in Los Alamos, the wives tried to learn every little tidbit of information they could about their husbands’ jobs in the “Tech Area”, and relate it back to whatever was the latest news on the war. After living there for a year or so they felt as normal as they could, and they developed social circles and gossiped and partied as if they were back in the Northeast suburbs. Then three years after making the move to New Mexico, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and it finally all made sense. Their husbands were responsible for bringing nuclear weapons into the modern world. (Toward the end of the book I flashed back to reading Hiroshima [not voluntarily, for Literary Journalism class], which is told from the perspectives of Hiroshima survivors. It would be mighty interesting to go back and read that now.)

Despite not loving the style in which the book is written, I am actually now quite intrigued by the children in the story as opposed to the wives. What was going through their minds when they were told they had to move? How did they feel upon arriving at completely undeveloped land? What did they do once they got there in terms of friends and school and maintaining relationships with their parents? How did they feel about the war in general, and when exactly did they realize the impact of what their fathers had done? Who are these children now, today; what did they become? How did growing up in Los Alamos affect them into adulthood? Some of these questions may have been answered if the book focused on one particular family, but the whole thing is told from a “we/our” perspective. I get that Nesbit was going for a collective voice here, but I really wish it honed in on one particular story instead of thousands joined into one. Surely these wives, children and husbands all had different experiences based on building the atomic bomb, no?

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