‘Lessons in Chemistry’ distills a unique plot and powerful characters

Make no mistake, “Lessons in Chemistry” is not a chick book. Yes, California-born Bonnie Garmus is the author and her main character is female, but the tale is hardly one of frills and lace. No, protagonist Elizabeth Zott is a downright 1950s and 1960s iconoclast, defying roles an unenlightened society keeps trying to shunt her into.

Zott is a brilliant scientist in a male-dominated scientific community, but never shirks. Garmus pulls together the intricate pieces of her plot like a chemist blending a volatile concoction.

The book begins and ends with Zott working on something called abiogenesis, attempting to discover just how lifeless chemicals became living organisms. In between, she fights for her job, falls in love, bears a child out of wedlock, adopts a stray dog, stars in a nationally syndicated television cooking show in which she doesn’t add pinches of salt but rather sodium chloride.

The author even has the dog narrate a couple of sections in the book.

Here is an example of Garmus’ dialogue that shows Zott’s spunk:

“You’re firing me?” Elizabeth said, confused.

“I’d like to get through this as civilly as possible.”

“Why am I being fired? On what grounds?”

“I think you know.”

Enlighten me,” she said, leaning forward, her hands clasped together in a tight mass, her number-two pencil behind her left ear glinting in the light. She wasn’t sure from where her composure came, but she knew she must keep it.

He glanced at Miss Frask, who was busy taking notes.

“You’re with child,” Donatti said. “Don’t try and deny it.”

“Yes, I’m pregnant. That is correct.”

“That is correct?” he choked. “That is correct?”

“Again. Correct. I am pregnant. What does that have to do with my work?”


“I’m not contagious,” she said, unfolding her hands. “I do not have cholera. No one will catch having a baby from me.”

“You have a lot of nerve,” Donatti said. “You know very well women do not continue to work when pregnant. But you — you’re not only with child, you’re unwed. It’s disgraceful.”

From there she lands the cooking show Supper at Six, replete with Bunsen burners, beakers, oscilloscope, goggles and eye wash station and learns some astounding things about her late boyfriend.

It is a satisfying read that might leave you feeling like you should go out and break a few pointless rules.

3 comments on “‘Lessons in Chemistry’ distills a unique plot and powerful characters

  1. Jane Ann Morrison says:

    Reading itt now and loving it!

  2. Wendy Ellis says:

    I’m a few hours into the audio version, and thoroughly enjoying “Lessons in Chemistry.” I’m a chemist myself, but passed it up until I saw your email.

    Thank you!

    Wendy Ellis

  3. It gets more interesting as you advance in the book.

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