Fun and Feminist
Just don't expect a great deal of depth
Are you riding the high of the Barbie movie and looking for something else to scratch the fun and feminist itch? This might be exactly what you need, but it might not be exactly Greta Gerwig-level work.
Elizabeth Zott knows that there is no such thing as an average woman because she herself is not. She is hitting the glass ceiling of her 1960s all male research institute and is feeling frustrated. She decides to take matters into her own hands when she meets Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant scientist who falls in love her mind. They have some real chemistry.
This book is all over the internet and rightly so. It's full of fun moments where smart and stubborn Zott refuses to sit quietly in a box that someone else has deemed fitting for her. She refuses to accept that other women want to be in those boxes either. Lessons in Chemistry is original and vibrant.
The relationship between Elizabeth and Calvin is truly heartwarming. I appreciate that the love story is real and relatable. I also appreciate that the story does not revolve around the love story. Calvin is a large part of Elizabeth's story, but he is all of it.
I'm very much looking forward to Apple TV's adaptation. Except that I didn't see a voice actor for Six Thirty and that would be a real shame to lose some of his comedy and compassion. I think Bri Larson is the perfect casting decision, if that gives you any idea who Elizabeth Zott really is.
While I feel like the themes and tone of the book are comparable to Greta Gerwig's Barbie, it falls a bit short of the depth. This book takes place in the early 1960's and the ending would cause one to think that we have significantly progressed as a society over the last 50 years, but I'm not confident that's true. Have we solved these problems? I don't think it's as simple as Garmus is stating in this neat and tidy story.
Although the story is a period piece taking place in the 1960s, I hesitate to call it historical fiction. There is no mention of major historical events like WWII. Zott briefly mentions Rosa Parks, which feels out of character for the person and the time. In the 1960's in Southern California, Zott would have been much more likely to be exposed with and discussing the Watts Rebellion than bus boycotts happening across the country.
Overall, this was a delightful debut novel from Garmus. She might have taken on some issues that were bigger than she could tackle though. If you don’t take the book too seriously then you might will probably love it. If you try to analyze all the messages and connect it to your personal situation, then you might tear it apart. As always take all of my advice with a bit of sodium chloride.