Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Reviewed by GGGinny
What I drank: Look, I really like sours. They don’t feel like real beer, but god do I love them. There’s this fantastic Blackberry Sour by a brewery called Kiitos that I’m a sucker for.
Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.
But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.
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.
Drunk Overview: This book follows Elizabeth Zott who is a chemist, who, through a twist of fate (and blatant misogyny) ends up hosting a cooking show rather than working as a chemist. The book follows her relationship with a man named Calvin Evans, the shitty colleagues at the chemistry company she worked for, and how she ended up on tv, with a happy helping of a coterie of impressive women.
Drunk Thoughts: This book was such a ride. For some context, the library I borrowed this from had over 200 holds on this book (luckily they also have 50 copies so the wait wasn’t nearly as long as it could/should have been). But whatever wait would have been well worth it. I kept hearing about this book and my mind is occasionally a sieve so I dont’ remember what I had heard but boy did I enjoy this.
- I loved the love story between Calvin Evans and Elizabeth Zott. They’re both crazy smart and while she’s super hot and he’s SUPER ugly (from the book), it’s clear that it’s not (just, in the Calvin’s case) looks that brought them together.
- The two of them were so clearly in their own world, for better or worse, that it made what happened outside of their relationship so much more interesting.
- To be blunt, this book covers a lot of era-appropriate misogyny.
- Elizabeth is delightfully naive in so many ways because of a fantastical and odd upbringing. That upbringing makes it understandable when she’s not aware of the ways the world isn’t meant to be fair, and even more-so when she decides she isn’t going to settle for the world not being fair.
- I also want to go into Mad Zott just a little bit. She’s Elizabeth’s child, and she inherited her intelligence from her parents. At times she’s functionally a mini adult, but the delightful thing about the way that she’s written is that her intelligence makes the moments where she’s truly a child so much more fun.
- Yes, Mad has an impressive vocabulary, but she’s still too trusting of some people or doesn’t understand the slang or colloquial sayings and it’s such a fun reminder that she’s a child.
- Legitimately, I feel like I could write an essay on every character in this book (at least the ones who matter). There’s a neighbor who is a great foil to Elizabeth while they end up being great friends, the tv producer who is dealing with the fallout of a bad marriage and becoming a single father while also balancing a really shitty boss, or the shitty boss Elizabeth had, or the shadowy figures that appeared in Calvin’s life at various times.
- The cast of this book is both vast and feels so tight. The personalities are so well built in even a few lines that I wanted to know that everyone ended up well.
- I think this book would argue that the location is more important than it is…. It’s set in California, and the big reason that matters is the weather is always “Perfect.” Which, of course, is untrue in life and the book.
- While the location matters in the text of the book, I feel like this could have been placed in a number of different areas, although I think the book being in California did make certain plot points (like Elizabeth’s show going whatever the 1950’s version of viral is) easier to explain.
- So, the plot of this book jumps around a lot!
- The opening chapter ends up focusing chronologically near the end of the story, but it was such a great way of hooking me in the story. I wanted to understand why Elizabeth, who had this seemingly perfect life, felt miserable.
- And the book delivered on that promise. While I mentioned Elizabeth’s naivete earlier, I found myself really frustrated with some of the moments where she seemed surprised at how shitty the world could be for a woman working outside of what was considered the norm.
- I’m getting off topic.
- There were so many tiny plot points that were hinted at (or straight up told “this is a secret which will be revealed later”) that made this book eminently readable. There was always another discovery in front of you.
- And the book fulfilled those promises. Whenever a thread was started, if was answered (if not quickkly)
- Sometimes the gap between these beginning and end of a thread were far enough apart that I felt smart for putting the dots together slightly before the characters….
- But this is one of those books where there are a few different plot points that all come together to weave a fantastic story. A childhood penpal becomes more important than you may have thought, a doctor/rowing fanatic becomes a friend, just… the way this pulled together made me so happy.
- This is a book I could have easily read another 500 pages of. The characters were so dynamic that I wasn’t quite ready to put them down. But that’s teh sign of a good book, that you want to continue seeing what the characters do, even if that chapter of their life is done.
- Oooh, i also like how the book handled redemptions. There are a number of characters that intentionally or unintentionally do something shitty. And the ones who recognize that in themselves have a chance to make themselves suck less.
- And I kind of love seeing that in a book. Maybe it’s that I’ve been reading too much YA, but I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of books where people who are just kind of shitty don’t get a chance to move past that. So I really enjoyed getting to see some of these characters either right their past wrongs, or find ways to grow from those mistakes!
What it Pairs With: Man, I don’t know enough about chemistry to answer this. A chilled glass of sterile vodka with three blueberries in it? (Fun fact, there’s a literal plot point in this book that Elizabeth refuses to make a cocktail at the end of her cooking show, which makes this a little ironic).