I promised myself at the start of the year to be more conscious about the books I buy and make more of an effort to support authors color. When I joined Book of the Month recently, I knew that Chemistry by Weike Wang was one of the books that I wanted to pick up! This was a very short read at just 224 pages- so I don't know why it's taken me so long to write this review!
Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She's tormented by her failed research--and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there's another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding success on her own.
Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she's confronted with a question she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want?Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry--one in which the reactions can't be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.
Chemistry is narrated from the perspective of a highly intelligent and unnamed woman in the sciences. While she has a high IQ, she clearly struggles with her personal relationships and seems to have a low EQ, and throughout the book, we discover that this stems from the pressure that is being put on her from all directions- her romantic partner, her family, her co workers. Told in a striking first-person point of view, the narrator's downward spiral is raw and unfiltered.
This storytelling style was the most compelling characteristic of the book, in my opinion. Even though I felt that there was no clear direction or plot, the frankness of the narrator kept me reading. We have a front-row seat to how her psyche breaks down throughout the course of the book. I also appreciated that she was able to articulate the inner struggles of a woman in STEM and an Asian American daughter who is accused of losing her sense of "Asian-ness" - two themes that I don't see often enough in fiction. And while I can complain all day about the plot's lack of focus, this articulation could not have been achieved without listening to the narrator's stream of conscious and being able to pick up the subtle microaggressions that she experienced.
At the end of the day, while there were heart-wrenching moments in Chemistry, the book was just too flat and two-dimensional. It relied entirely on the reader being able to follow the narrator's train of thought and be compelled enough by her voice to keep reading, since there was no clear plot. It was a very unique book with a voice that I haven't heard before in fiction, and because it's so short, I would recommend picking it up and giving the first fifty pages a try.