Short Stories 366:78 — “The Half-Life of Marie Curie,” by Lauren Gunderson

coverSometimes I think Max (and myself) owe a lot to Audible for our continued health, as listening to audiobooks is one of the ways I make it through winters with a husky, and he often ends up getting longer walks thanks to captivating stories if I check and see I’ve got, say, ten minutes left to go in a performance. I’ll just keep walking and listening, and he’s always down for more walking. Such was the case with The Half-Life of Marie Curie.

Marie Curie is someone I knew a moderate amount about, as I did a few projects on her when I was a geeky science kid in middle grades, but this two woman play takes a slice of her life I hadn’t delved too deeply into, and tells a story of the scandal of her life: her affair with Paul Langevin. It nearly ruined her, despite her also winning her second Nobel prize at the same time, and for a summer, she retreated to the seaside house of Hertha Ayrton, an engineer I’m sad to say I hadn’t been aware of before this performance.

And I mean performance. Both Kate Mulgrew and Francesa Faridany inhabit their characters so fully that this short play-turned-audio-performance is flipping incredible. Ayrton, the Jewish engineer who solved the electric light “buzz” problem (and later saved many a life that would have been lost to mustard gas thanks to another invention) basically steals Curie away when she is crumbling, and the summer is restorative in more ways than one. There is so much triumph here, despite the seemingly endless fight two brilliant women face in their time and place, and I adore their relationship, their intersection, and this performance left me moved and inspired in the face of what often feels like endless obstacles.

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