cover image Atomic Family

Atomic Family

Ciera Horton McElroy. Blair, $28.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-949467-94-9

McElroy’s powerful debut evokes the atmosphere of early 1960s American Cold War anxiety with the tragic story of a family living near a South Carolina bomb plant. Dean Porter is a lead scientist at the plant, and is increasingly dismayed at the impact of the facility’s radioactive waste on the local environment. His dissatisfied wife, Nellie, who often drinks out of boredom, joins a march against nuclear weapons along with other wives of plant workers. The Porters’ 10-year-old son, Wilson, meanwhile, is obsessed with the inevitable dropping of a bomb and is constantly on the lookout for communists and suspicious activity. Tension spikes between the couple as Dean grapples privately with the moral dilemma of sharing his worrisome research without confiding with Nellie; Nellie tries to process her abandonment by her father, who left when she was a little girl; and Wilson, who is increasingly a secondary consideration to his parents, dangerously ramps up his surveillance efforts. McElroy writes with veracity about the effects of nuclear waste on the land and water, and brings to life the strange mix of terror and naivete of the era. The well-drawn backdrop makes this affecting family drama all the more acute. (Feb.)