Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry (Doubleday 2022) proved to be quite a timely read considering the recent SCOTUS leak – not because it features an abortion, but because it is wrapped in the confines of discrimination that have long held women hostage. I work in a male-dominated field. I frequently have clients assume I’m the secretary/paralegal. I’ve had male colleagues talk over me and present my legal analysis as their own. I’ve been told that women belong in the kitchen, not a courtroom. I was told in law school that only “pretty” attorneys should be trial attorneys. Needless to say, I related to Elizabeth Zott quite a bit even though Garmus’s novel is set in the 1960s and is about a chemist.
Elizabeth is one of the most memorable characters I’ve read in a while. She’s quirky. Independent. Fierce. Intelligent. And a survivor. The novel is full of horrific scenes: rape, sexual assault, intense sexual harassment in the workplace, etc., but there is a lightness in the grit that makes this novel phenomenal. The storytelling element, and the voices, remind me quite a bit of Fredrick Backman, and I know that is a huge part of why I loved this novel so much.
Elizabeth Zott is a chemist who loses her job when she gets pregnant. She struggles to make ends meet as a single mother after a tragic accident claims the love of her life. Desperate, she swallows her pride and asks for her job back. Despite her expert knowledge, she is discredited, and her work stolen. When an opportunity arises that pays more, she takes it even though it’s everything she is against. And that is how Elizabeth Zott becomes the reluctant star of Supper at Six.
There are some interesting characters and friendships that develop, but the most charming of characters is the dog. Six-Thirty was a bomb-sniffing dog who failed and was abandoned as useless. Elizabeth sets out to teach him as many words as possible. Named for the exact time he entered their lives after a misunderstanding, Six-Thirty is devoted to his family. (The dog does NOT die.) Elizabeth’s daughter is also named following a misunderstanding. Elizabeth didn’t realize she was being asked the name when she responded “mad,” but Mad Zott the name became.
The novel is quirky and gritty, a cutting and charming slice of life that is certainly in my top reads.
Read this book.