Review: Chemistry by Weike Wang

April 1, 2018

 

What do I really want? That's the question that the unnamed narrator of Chemistry by Weike Wang sets out to answer after she has a meltdown three years into her, yes, chemistry graduate program at a prestigious Boston university. Her long-term boyfriend, also a student and a scientist, wants to get married and live happily ever after, but how can she possibly get married when she can't even "science" anymore? Who is she outside of the lab, outside of her parents' demands and expectations of her life, outside of who she's worked so hard to be?

 

I think many of us, myself included, have been in a similar situation before, where we're at a crossroads and must determine if we're living life on our own terms, or for someone else. It was this relatable aspect that made me choose Chemistry as my Book of the Month pick several months back. Unfortunately, after reaching the end, I felt the book fell flat of my expectations - to the point where I honestly don't have too much to say about the experience of reading it. 

 

The narrator, as mentioned, remains unnamed throughout, which leaves the reader disconnected from the story. The writing is abrupt, disconnected, which I realize is the author's style, and some do like this style, but it didn't work for me here. Similarly, because the narrator spends most of the book  alternating between whining, feeling sorry for herself, and making inane observations about the people and things around her, my patience with her was worn thin by the end. 

 

The other characters in the book are more or less one-dimensional. The narrator's boyfriend is kind and loving to her, and smart to boot. Perhaps he should have his own book? The narrator's parents are adult bullies, and act like children themselves. No one character seems to do much growing throughout, making for a lackluster character arc. 

 

I realize that the narrator likely felt (feels?) very little emotion herself, and that may be why the narration felt a bit soulless, but that doesn't excuse the monotony of the overall plot. For the purpose of writing this review, I flipped through the book and found that not much happens in terms of the plot moving forward. You can skip pages and not miss anything (important.) 

 

So, what's the good? The references to Chinese proverbs and to the rules of chemistry and physics were interesting, and sometimes even funny, when they paralleled the narrator's life. Additionally, there were some interesting aspects of cultural stereotypes and being an immigrant in America, as well as some good thinking points on being a woman who struggles with wanting to do well for herself while trying to resist societal expectations that she become part of a "couple." However, these better aspects were not quite able to support the thin plot. 

 

Thankfully, the book is quite short, as novels go, so the time investment is not too great to give this a read if you're still curious to read Chemistry. Unfortunately, this one was just not for me. 

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