My kindle app was booming in April, but I only managed to read one book. I'm struggling with wanting to read. I want to want to read, but actually making the effort to get into a story feels daunting.
But! The book I did read was excellent.
Lessons in Chemistry follows chemist Elizabeth Zott as she works towards her goal of completing her research and being taken seriously as a scientist. Set in the 1950s/60s, Elizabeth faces systemic misogyny that will make your blood boil. But the way the novel is written is actually pretty light-hearted, making it easy to read even as Elizabeth lives through terrible, unfair, and even violent situations.
I've become the sort of reader who doesn't want to get too bogged down in depressing plots – real life is stressful enough right now – so I appreciated that the writing style kind of jogs you through the worst of it. This is partially due to Elizabeth being a fairly unsentimental character. She's matter-of-fact, a true scientist, and she doesn't dwell on difficulties even while they continue to impact her.
Reflecting on this book, I'd say it doesn't shy away from the hard truths of her circumstances, but neither does it bash you over the head with them. The writing is also infused with dry, ironic humor, which makes the difficult passages easier to swallow.
Despite being almost cursory in tone, Lessons in Chemistry resists being dry or boring. This is in part due to a few whimsical elements, like the too-smart-to-be-real dog, Six-Thirty, and Elizabeth's precocious daughter Mad.
In the end, I was left reflecting on the fact that, although this novel is fiction, it was reality for many women in America. Still is, in some ways. Certainly worldwide. The hurdles Elizabeth fights to overcome – the closed-minded men; the women who uphold the patriarchy because it gives them some semblance of power; the assumptions and judgements she faces for being beautiful, smart, and single; the simple wish to be taken seriously – all feel familiar and not at all a thing of the past.
I'm reminded that it wasn't so long ago that women couldn't have a credit card or bank account without the signature of a male relative. That our rights are still very much in flux, constantly debated, constantly in danger. The overturning of Roe v. Wade was only last year! I take so much for granted while simultaneously being all too aware that my autonomy is never guaranteed. That there will always be a class of people in power who want to subjugate women because they are threatened by our potential.
This book? Highly, highly recommend. This ass-backwards country and the way it treats women? Not so much. We've come a long way, but we have miles to go.
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