From a Google Image Search – Book Club Chat
A book about what befalls a woman in a field dominated by men doesn’t usually sound like much fun, but Bonnie Garmus cracked that code in Lessons in Chemistry. Elizabeth Zott is a chemist, a talented chemist. She has exactly the right character for scholarly experimentation. She doesn’t plan to marry or have children. But she is beautiful, and it has created no end of problems for her. She doesn’t have her doctorate because she was sexually abused by the professor who was advising her. She is hired by a lab but is given a space that is poorly equipped. She wants to study abiogenesis, trying to trace life to one organism, but the head chemist, Dr. Donatti, will not sign off on that. Might she have been left to her own devices if she had not been beautiful? Maybe, but it would have been a different story.
While stealing beakers from the lab of Calvin Evans, the chemistry star of the university, recognized in significant articles in science literature, she piques his ire and then his interest. Calvin is not handsome, but he is tall and lanky and authentic. Elizabeth Zott cannot help herself. They become a couple and they eventually live together with their dog, Six-Thirty. Calvin proposes but EZ stays true to her decision not to marry. Calvin keeps the jealous, unethical, and lecherous Donatti at bay. He offers balance in EZ’s life, and he gets her to try rowing. Then tragedy strikes. (That’s all I can say)
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice could have been Elizabeth Zott if she had been born in the twentieth century. Although this snapshot of a woman just trying to excel at something men usually do is from the 1950’s, before women’s lib, this dynamic has not changed as much as you might think. Once women are established or have worked for an enlightened organization, women can compete, but the path to the top is still littered with abuse and attempts to make a woman’s accomplishments less or her lifestyle unacceptable. In Lessons in Chemistry Dr. Donatti and his assistants plagiarize Elizabeth’s work, and he publishes it as his own. You may think this is despicable because it is, but this has certainly happened although sometimes in more subtle ways. Elizabeth is forced by circumstances to earn her props in a related field before she can get back to pure chemistry.
Bonnie Garmus has managed to make this story madcap and humorous, certainly without the heaviness you would expect from a description of the book’s subject. It’s a wonderful book and it is over all too fast. If you liked Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple you will like this book too, perhaps finding it more realistic. In conclusion, I will simply suggest that you might want to get an erg for your living room.