Lessons in Chemistry

Bonnie Garmus. Doubleday, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-54734-5

Garmus debuts with a perplexing feminist fairy tale set in 1960s Southern California. Plucky chemist Elizabeth Zott believes she’s not like other women (“Most of the women she’d met in college claimed they were only there to get their MRS,” Garmus writes. “It was disconcerting, as if they’d all drunk something that had rendered them temporarily insane”). She proceeds to fall madly in love with her colleague, have his child, and then, after being sidelined by double standards, sexual harassment, and scandal around her pregnancy, she’s dismissed from her job and becomes an overnight sensation as the host of a daytime cooking show. This trajectory, and its few tragedies, are intermittently interrupted by the anthropomorphized thoughts of her dog, Six-Thirty: “Humans were strange, Six-Thirty thought, the way they constantly battled dirt in their aboveground world, but after death willingly entombed themselves in it.” In the end, everything works out—not because the patriarchy is destroyed or fairness is achieved, but thanks to the favors of a rich female benefactor equipped to strike back at those who humiliated Zott. While the scenes of Zott hosting her show do have their charm, the overall effect is about as deep as a Hallmark card. The author has a great voice, but contemporary readers will be left wondering who this is for. Agent: Jennifer Joel, ICM. (April.)
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