I think the first time I saw Bonnie Garmus’ “Lessons In Chemistry,” I may have thought it was a memoir. Or, even if it was fiction, it had science in its title. Science. Eww.
Elizabeth Zott would be so disappointed in me. I’m begging for forgiveness. (It’s just that me and science … well, I’m a words girl.)
“Lessons in Chemistry” has as much to do with actually teaching chemistry as Harry Potter has to do with learning magic — it’s there if you want to take it in. What it’s really about — accepting that bad things happen to good people, recognizing that we all have some if not a lot of agency over the course of our lives, and that true love exists in soulmates, friendships, children and dogs — is enough to keep you turning the pages until you suddenly realize it’s over and know that Elizabeth Zott is going to live rent-free in your head for a while.
Set in the early 60s, Elizabeth’s love of science has been the major propelling force to that point in her life. And it’s the force that allows her to put as much distance as possible from her upbringing, the only daughter of ne’er-do-wells who are about as sketchy as they come.
It’s at Hastings Research Institute that the stars collide for she and chemistry wunderkind Calvin Evans, who first made a name for himself in the field before he was even 20 years old. A young man with an equally if not more disturbing past, he too buried his head in books to temper his pain. It was love at first sight …. ish.
But for as strong as the love story is, “Lessons in Chemistry” is really about the tenacity of one woman to prove there is more to life than pleasing a man and raising his children. That women can dream the dream and actually take steps to achieve it. Sure, this is set in the 60s, but the message still resonates. Garmus leans into a lot of button-pushing, as Elizabeth takes on repeated misogyny, blatant sexual assault, religion, social mores, and established tropes that anchor the perception of the sexes. All while trying to come to terms with her own perceived faults and guilt for events of which she had no control over. You know — all the same bullshit we as women today handle on the regular.
I just loved this book and the characters and the subtle brilliance with which Garmus was able to craft a family out of the frenzy. And while I anxiously await the return of “Ted Lasso” and “Succession” I am GIDDY this is going to be on Apple TV. Y’all are in for a treat.
If you haven’t read this yet (I was really late to the party on this one) — get yourself a copy and put it at the top of your pile. You won’t regret it.