“Chemistry, while powerful, is sometimes unpredictable.”
Chemistry tells the story of the complexity of love, life, family, friendship, immigration and science, all in 211 very short pages. The narrator, whose name is never revealed, is a PhD candidate in chemistry, living in Boston with Eric, also a PhD candidate in chemistry. When we meet them they have been living together for two years, with a dog, and he wants to marry. She is not so sure.
The narrator is Chinese American and her parents are both from China. Her father moved the family to America when she was five years old so that he could obtain a PhD and become an engineer. Her mother, a very beautiful woman, had been a pharmacist in China and has a hard time adjusting to life in America. The parents, who fight constantly, are very aggressive about the narrator completing her PhD.
Narrator is not making progress and appears to have a complete breakdown, when she breaks five beakers in the chemistry lab. She ultimately never returns. Eric, the boyfriend, has completed his degree and takes a teaching job in Oberlin. The narrator stays put in Boston with the dog. She sees a therapist and through the interactions with the therapist we learn the complexity of her upbringing and her thought process. She begins tutoring students in math and science with some success.
Narrator has a best friend who is a doctor living in Manhattan. She sees and speaks to the best friend on a regular basis. The best friend has a baby, separates from her husband and narrator and the best friend posit frequently about the complexities of life and love. Ultimately, both narrator and best friend seem to come to terms with life. “I have brief windows of clarity when I see that happiness is not just achievement but made up of many other things.”
The book is short, choppy and introspective. The introspection saves the book, which is not exactly a story but more of a missive, yet the book succeeds in subtly building to a sense of emotional growth. It was not the best of 2017, but possibly worth a read if you have an extra couple of hours on your hands. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library in electronic form by clicking here.