I recently finished the novel Chemistry by Weike Wang, and I liked it so much! It tells the story of a 20-something woman in a chemistry graduate program who is deeply unhappy and figuring out what to do about it. She’s frustrated by her research and her unsupportive advisors. She also doesn’t know what to do about her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. She has been happy with him, more or less, but the idea of marriage really freaks her out, not least because her parents’ marriage was so deeply unhappy. She is also worried about how she will feel if she follows her more-successful boyfriend/husband so he can pursue his career, while her own languishes. Will she end up made miserable by that decision?
The novel is in first person, and I liked the narrator’s voice — it’s thoughtful and quirky, smart and panicked. She brings in scientific concepts to help explain her feelings in a way that’s apt and funny. She’s struggling and only sometimes fully self-aware, and I rooted for her as she took risks and tried out new things, and I admired her stubborn refusal to make decisions when she’s not ready to.
The book gradually reveals what it is in the narrator’s past that makes her so afraid of marriage, and that part is moving, as are her descriptions of what it’s like to be the child of immigrants, trying to make her own way forward while dealing with the weight of her parents’ hopes and expectations.
This is the kind of book where not a whole lot happens, but the interest and enjoyment come from characterization and voice — one of my favorite kinds of fiction.
3 responses to “Chemistry, by Weike Wang”
I also especially like that kind of fiction!
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I remember hearing about this/being curious about it when it came out, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. This makes me feel like I should, though – I also have a soft spot for books that are more about characters/voice than plot/action.
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I’ve heard it compared to Dept. of Speculation, and that works, not in terms of subject matter and situation, but in terms of voice and character development.