I finally got around to Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus at the very end of the year. It wasn’t a bad book to sink into during this wayward week between Christmas and New Year’s, but it wasn’t perfect either.

It’s about Elizabeth Zott, a chemist who chafes against what it means to be a woman in the 1950s, especially a woman in science. She manages to claw her way into a job that is beneath her knowledge and ability, which is also where she also falls in love with a chemist who himself is branded a genius. As a bonus, he also understands her, and believes in her brain power at the same time seeing how unfair she’s treated.

Because the story opens with Elizabeth as a single mother, we know something happens to that relationship, but I won’t spoil it here. But that does inadvertently lead her to becoming a famous TV chef, because she applies chemistry to cooking, which she calls serious business. Which, as anyone who cooks can tell you, it is.

I enjoyed most of Lessons in Chemistry, but it all started to fall apart in the last 100 pages. There were too many coincidences, too many everythings that turned in exactly the right ways, so that the whole thing felt like a bunch of deus ex machinas showering on the story all at once. The novel was already a bit fantastical with a dog that sometimes narrates the story, but the ending tipped way over the line into silly.

I still think I’ll watch Apple TV+ adaptation, because I’m curious about how they did it. But just looking at some clips, I agree with Sophie Vershbow’s take that they cast the wrong dog.

Nail polish: Angels Flight to Starry Nights by OPI.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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