14 February 2016

Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss

I love Valentine's Day. Although I have historically dated people who refuse to celebrate it (or who have to work so that other people can celebrate it -- shout out to all the servers busting their asses for what are generally seriously sub-par tips today), I like to honor it in little ways, generally by cooking myself a nice dinner, and watching a good movie or reading something romantic. This year, an afternoon on the couch reading a beautiful book and listening to Herb Kent play love dusties on the radio seemed like a good way to go.

I say this partly to give you a sense of what I was looking for when I read this book, which may explain why I felt slightly disappointed. This is not really a love story about Pierre or Marie, at least, not after the first 40 pages. It's more like a notebook full of stuff related to radioactivity, chief of which is Maria Skłodowska's life story. I'm cool with that idea, my gripe is that it wasn't presented or organized as effectively as one might like. You're humming along with the story of Pierre and Marie, and suddenly, there's a detour into Oppenheimer and Irving Lowen and Hiroshima. Woah. What? Yes, they are related to the topic, and I fully appreciate the sense that they belong in this book, if that's what the book wants to do, I just didn't realize that that's what it was doing, so it came across more like a rather rude intrusion.

The focus of the narrative ultimately seems to be a sketched out assemblage, more than anything else. It's a somewhat cursory account of Marie's life* and the asides, too, are brief, more suggestive than developed. The idea is neat, I just think that more needed to be done with it.

Meanwhile, though, the artwork is gorgeous. A really interesting combination of styles and techniques, drawings, paintings, photographs. Really lovely stuff. It may not be the love story you'd hoped for, but it is nonetheless a pleasure to page through on a snowy Valentine's Day afternoon.


*But if you are interested in Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie's life, I highly recommend Barbara Goldsmith's incredible biography, Obsessive Genius.