I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the book Chemistry! Author Weike Wang’s unnamed narrator, a Chinese-American Ph.D. student, lives with her redheaded boyfriend behind her traditional parents’ backs. Despite the high expectations for their daughter to become a chemist, she is unable to be successful in her research, losing interest in her male dominated field and having difficulty making decisions regarding her career and her relationship. The boyfriend proposed but she is just not feeling it enough to say yes, yet she doesn’t immediately say no. Caught in ambiguity, with nonscientific questions of the heart on her mind, and confusion about her future hanging in the balance, she searches inside herself to understand who she is, flaws and all, and how she fits in. Like an unsolved scientific problem, she may not be able to solve it and may choose to just ruminate. “Being in limbo doesn’t preclude us from sharing nice meals. In limbo, we still have to eat.”
The narrator states that her vision is poor, and everything about her, her parents and her acne for example, seems worse than others. This, for me is a metaphor portraying how self conscious she is; a harsh judge of herself, while looking at others through a softer veil of judgement. Overwhelmed with her own situation, she shows little emotion to the outside world. Her approach to life is scientific, and a bit negative. “The optimist sees the glass half full. The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The chemist sees the glass completely full, half in liquid state and half in gaseous, both of which are probably poisonous.” She is a realist, guided by proven fact and less by emotion and feelings; her life teeters back and forth while she is looking for a balance. “The only difference between a poison and a cure is dosage”. She searches for happiness and presents to the reader how she feels about it with an equation:
“Happiness = reality- expectations.
If reality is > expectations, then you are happy.
If reality is < expectations, then you are not.
Hence the lower your expectations, the happier you will be.”
Wang is a minimalist when it comes to verbiage; like a mathematical equation with no directions, she says only what is imperative, no flowery language or description but with an added touch of humor. It is up to the reader to read into the meaning of what is presented; her metaphors are fantastic food for thought when it comes to understanding the main character and her journey.
Written without names, the narrator could be anyone; an anonymous person in the midst of the struggles of life. I loved all the science references, metaphorical situations, and found this book most enjoyable. Chemistry is short but worthy of spending the time to read thoughtfully. It is satisfying in so many ways; a must read this summer with a unique style, thought provoking, heartbreaking and funny!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Weike Wang is not only the author of the beloved Chemistry, but her short fiction has also appeared in Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, Prick of the Spindle, and Redivider. In the past, she has taught at Boston University and holds a BA from Harvard University, an SD from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University.