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Chemistry: A novel by Weike Wang

Chemistry: A novel

by Weike Wang

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1221298,704 (3.83)15



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I struggled a little with the style of this book. Everything is in present tense (even the past) and there are no quotation marks.
Overall, it's enjoyable but very introspective- not a lot of plot. ( )
  sarahy531 | Aug 16, 2017 |
Reminiscent of Jenny Offill's Department of Speculation, in a great way. I loved the quiet but wry voice that leaves a lot unsaid, letting you unravel the mysteries of a relationship even as you get to know one of its voices really well. Wang has a great help on her narrative voice, and it comes off the page so clearly that when you look up, it seems strange to find yourself in the same old room as before. ( )
  BraveNewBks | Aug 8, 2017 |
I flew through this--it reads quick and I'm probably an average-paced reader. I appreciate books that have deceptively simple titles that work well on multiple levels. Chemistry definitely does (see also: Descent).

Chemistry anchors our unnamed narrator / Ph.D. student to a life that otherwise seems to confound her. Elements may react unpredictably when combined, but at least there's a general sense of outcome. In life, with people and emotions, there is none of that.

The character is about 155 degrees different from me and yet, I found her view of life, love, work, family and identity interesting, if not always relatable. The book itself is charming and the author has a fresh voice and writing style, yet this book is somewhat inconsequential, not one to stick with you for long. Not disappointed that I read it, but at the same time, won't re-read it either. For someone considering it, I'd encourage the read; but it's not a title that I'm compelled to put in someone's hands. ( )
  angiestahl | Aug 7, 2017 |
"You must love chemistry even when it is not working. You must love chemistry unconditionally."

"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 gaseous, both of which are probably poisonous."

Our unnamed narrator is deep into her PhD chemistry program, at a Boston university and now is weighing a marriage proposal from her live-in boyfriend, a fellow scientist. It seems like her life as been guided by outside forces, her entire life, especially by her domineering Chinese-immigrant parents. She is slowly being suffocated by these crushing expectations. To everyone's horror, she decides to chuck it all and go her own way...
This is a well-crafted debut, with clean, sharp prose and whip-smart observations. It is also filled with scientific and historic anecdotes, that I also enjoyed, including this gem, calling out to The Radium Girls:

“Chemistry, while powerful, is sometimes unpredictable. In 1902, radium's glow is mistaken for spontaneous energy and Marie (Curie) is celebrated. But then, in 1928, the lip-pointing girls, the going straight to your bones.” ( )
  msf59 | Jul 9, 2017 |
I can see people not enjoying this b/c of the writing style (I myself had trouble getting into it); however I think it ends up working quite well for the story. I found the main character incredibly relatable. ( )
  Kristymk18 | Jul 3, 2017 |
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"You must love chemistry unconditionally."

When we meet the narrator of Weike Wang's taut debut novel, this is the credo she's striven to follow for most of her life. But now, three years into a graduate program at a demanding Boston university, she finds her onetime love for chemistry to be more hypothesis than reality. She is frustrated by reminders of her failed research from her peers, her advisor, and most of all her Chinese parents, who have expected nothing short of excellence from her since she was young. On top of all this looms the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding her own success.

The pressure of these volatile elements eventually mounts so high that she has no choice but to leave behind everything she thought she knew about her future — and herself. And for the first time, she's confronted with a problem she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want?

Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry — one in which the reactions can't be quantified and analyzed. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a vibrant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the sacrifices made for love and family, and the anxieties of finding your place in the world.

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