Lessons in Chemistry

Bonnie Garmus

Fiction 2022 | 400 pages


From what I heard, I expected this book to be good.  I didn't expect to be astounding!  This is a must read.  Another debut novel to celebrate!

The story is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Elizabeth Zot is a chemist.  It goes without saying, a woman chemist at this time was more than an anomaly.  She was also dismissed, misunderstood, feared, abhorred, discriminated against, and pushed hard towards other, more appropriate roles, i.e., wife and mother. She is serious and cerebral.  No surprise, her cerebral-ness keeps her at arm's length from many people, but it also provides the reader with eye-rolling giggles.

She meets and falls in love with another brilliant chemist ... one who is no smarter than her, but is famous for his work, because he is a he.  Elizabeth and Calvin Evans are soulmates, as is their adopted dog, Six-Thirty (who knows 981 human words by the end of the book.)

Elizabeth Zot's story includes fighting to be seen and respected by the misogynist scientific community.  It includes battling blatant gender-based discrimination, sexual assault, and a man who puts his name on her research, which was funded by a man who believed Zot was a man.  Elizabeth Zot is eventually demoted and then fired from her research position.  I won't tell you why ... too many spoilers if I do!  She goes on to host an afternoon tv show called "Supper at Six" in which she teaches "housewives" the chemistry of cooking and becomes famous in spite of herself.

The sport of rowing, also dominated by men, plays an interesting role in Lessons in Chemistry.  It is its own character, with a personality all its own.  And then there is my other favorite character in the book, Mad.  But I will let you find out who Mad is.

It sounds a little heavy, doesn't it?  Well, Lessons in Chemistry is not arduous, despite the serious subjects it tackles. Bonnie Garmus' writing is fun, engaging, often humorous, and thought-provoking.  Garmus says in her follow-on interview with Pandora Sykes, "I wanted to salute that generation of overlooked women, to highlight their enormous and often underused capabilities."  This is the generation of her mom.

I like this sentence from a review at Amazon.com, so will steal it:  “Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.”

No question, read this book!!  And post your comments when you do, please!  I am actually sorry it is complete.

May 2023

One response on “Lessons in Chemistry

  1. Rene

    I so agree! I was sorry when it ended. I gave it my highest rating: 5 stars. Fun that we were reading/listening to this at the same time.