Lessons in Chemistry - by Bonnie Garmus
The novel’s ending delivers a surprise–the characters’ research had been funded by her partner’s biological mother. At her partner’s funeral, many characters appeared, including the mother, a pen pal, and the dog. It is particularly inspiring to note that the author Bonnie Garmus released this debut novel at age 65.
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
She sat silently, weighing his words. They made annoying sense in a terribly unfair way.
That had to be a special brand of bravery, for a child to endure the worst, and despite every law in the universe and all evidence to the contrary, decide the next day might be better.
“What do you mean?” “I mean,” he said, leaning forward, “that I suspect you were born good but went bad. Rotted,” he said, “through a series of bad choices. Are you familiar with the idea that beauty comes from within?” “Yes.” “Well, your insides match your outward ugliness.” Calvin touched his swollen knuckles, trying not to cry.
Just like after her brother’s suicide and Meyers’s attack, she could not cry. An army of tears lay just behind her eyes, but they refused to decamp. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of her: no matter how many deep breaths she took her lungs refused to fill.
Everywhere they walked, even in the drabbest of neighborhoods, blooms poked their way up between sidewalk cracks and flower beds, shouting and boasting and calling attention to themselves, mingling their scents in hopes of creating complex perfumes. And there they were in the thick of it, the only living dead things.
Humans were strange, Six-Thirty thought, the way they constantly battled dirt in their aboveground world, but after death willingly entombed themselves in it. At the funeral, he couldn’t believe the amount of dirt needed to cover Calvin’s coffin, and when he saw the size of the shovel, he’d wondered if he should offer the help of his back legs to fill the hole. And now dirt was again the issue, but in the wrong direction. Every last trace of Calvin had been scrubbed away. He watched as she stood in the middle of the room, her face blank with shock.
The only real issue with these people, besides the occasional hygiene challenge, was that they always seemed to embrace failure as a positive outcome. “I have not failed,” they’d endlessly quote Edison, “I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Which may be an acceptable thing to say in science but is absolutely the wrong thing to say to a roomful of investors looking for an immediate, high-ticket, chronic treatment for cancer. God save them from actual cures. Much harder to make money off someone who doesn’t have a problem anymore.
Idiots make it into every company. They tend to interview well.
“What I know,” she said, pushing a stray hair away from her forehead, “is that Calvin and I did not want to have children. I also know that we took every precaution to ensure that outcome. This pregnancy is a failure of contraception, not morality. It’s also none of your business.”
He’d once heard someone say it was important to be reminded of one’s failures, but he didn’t know why. Failures, by their very nature, had a way of being unforgettable.
She’d lost her job, her research, bladder control, a clear view of her toes, restful sleep, normal skin, a pain-free back, not to mention all the little assorted freedoms everyone else who is not pregnant takes for granted—like being able to fit behind a steering wheel. The only thing she’d gained? Weight.
Yes. Not liking one’s mother from the very start was entirely possible. Beyond that, there was the repetitiveness—the feeding, the bathing, the changing, the calming, the wiping, the burping, the soothing, the pacing; in short, the volume. Many things were repetitive—erging, metronomes, fireworks—but all of those things usually ended within an hour. This could go on for years. And when the baby slept, which was never, there was still more work to be done: laundry, bottle prep, sanitizing, meals—plus the constant rereading of Dr. Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. There was so much to do she couldn’t even make a to-do list because making a list was just one more thing to do. Plus, she still had all of her other work to do.
Because while stupid people may not know they’re stupid because they’re stupid, surely unattractive people must know they’re unattractive because of mirrors.
Neither of them had wanted children, and Elizabeth still fervently believed that no woman should be forced to have a baby. Yet here she was, a single mother, the lead scientist on what had to be the most unscientific experiment of all time: the raising of another human being. Every day she found parenthood like taking a test for which she had not studied. The questions were daunting and there wasn’t nearly enough multiple choice. Occasionally she woke up damp with sweat, having imagined a knock at the door and some sort of authority figure with an empty baby-sized basket saying, “We’ve just reviewed your last parental performance report and there’s really no nice way to put this. You’re fired.”
wasn’t that the very definition of life? Constant adaptations brought about by a series of never-ending mistakes?
But as the years wore on, he began to feel like he was the prisoner permanently assigned to digging the escape tunnel. At the end of the day, as the other prisoners scrambled over him to freedom, he stayed behind with the spoon.
Wakely had written in the first letter. “Specifically, I wanted to ask: Don’t you think it’s possible to believe in both God and science?” “Sure,” Calvin had written back. “It’s called intellectual dishonesty.”
“There’s nothing average about the average housewife,” she corrected.
“You were saying about circadian rhythms.” “Right,” he said, “As you well know, humans are biologically programmed to sleep twice a day— a siesta in the afternoon, then eight hours of sleep at night.”
The children’s shows are key here: they’re designed to electronically babysit children so the mother has a chance to recuperate before her next act.
More like climbing a mountain. Something you felt good about, but only after it was over.
He sighed inwardly. The problem with being a minister was how many times a day he had to lie. This was because people needed constant reassurance that things were okay or were going to be okay instead of the more obvious reality that things were bad and were only going to get worse. He’d been officiating a funeral just last week—one of his congregants had died of lung cancer—and his message to the family, all of whom also smoked like chimneys, was that the man had died, not because of his four-pack-a-day habit, but because God needed him. The family, each inhaling deeply, thanked him for his wisdom.
Several women in the studio audience nodded vigorously.
In 1960, people did not go on television and say they didn’t believe in God and expect to be on television much longer. As proof, Walter’s phone was soon filled with threats from sponsors and viewers who wanted Elizabeth Zott fired, jailed, and/or stoned to death. The latter came from self-proclaimed people of God—the same God that preached tolerance and forgiveness.
She had the kind of hair that had once been blond but was slowly surrendering to age.
“It’s nice to finally put a face to the name.”
It was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Elizabeth stared at Avery Parker, uncertain how to proceed.