Book Corner 2023.1

Not a great way to kick off the reading year. It was a Xmas gift.

Lessons in Chemistry (it’s not worth a hyperlink)

by Bonnie Garmus

Plot: Elizabeth is a woman trying to make it as a chemist circa 1960. She faces brutal sexual harassment. Her fellow-genius-chemist lover suddenly dies in a freak accident after impregnating her. She struggles to raise her baby and continue doing chemistry in her kitchen. In another freak turn of events, she lands a job hosting a chemistry cooking show. Finally, a series of unlikely events lead to the explanations behind her dead lover’s horrendous childhood.

Books that don’t feel true to the period drive me up a wall. I grew weary picking up my phone to fact-check all the anachronisms. A sampling:

  • Someone who allegedly saw the Beatles already in 1960, and they already had long hair.
  • Reference to “libertarian bullshit”. The word “libertarian” goes back a ways but wasn’t common in American discourse till the 70s.
  • Reference to Swedish subsidized childcare. Sweden nominally began providing such directly after WWII, but it was ineffectual and didn’t really take off until, again, the 70s. People wouldn’t be throwing around Sweden as an example of workable socialism in 1960.

Second annoyance: one of my favorite tropes, the Bratty Kid. Granted I mostly liked Madeline, Elizabeth’s bastard child who is a 4-year-old kindergartener through most of the book. I’ll buy that she’s precocious and accept some over-the-top examples for comic effect. But I didn’t buy how everyone treated this 4-year-old as a tiny adult, not just her mom.

Thirdly, when we got glimpses into how Elizabeth actually conducted her inexplicably wildly popular cooking show, I wished the author would have left it up to our imaginations. Her explanation of the difference between ionic, covalent, and hydrogen bonds, trying to compare them to relationships, was not only ridiculous, but bore only the flimsiest relationship to cooking.

Finally, eh. It just wasn’t a serious book and had too much parenty crap for my taste – I don’t mean the Elizabeth-Madeline relationship, more all the crap about Elizabeth and Calvin’s parentage and pasts. The most common chick-lit climax of all… “And the mother/father really WAS…. [drumroll]” This is a book to toss.

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