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Chemistry by Weike Wang
Literary fiction


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Weike Wang, on your first book!

by Weike Wang

Quick take

Seeing the world through the lens of chemistry is novel, if only as a reminder that the messiness of life follows no particular formula.

Why I love it

Leigh Haber
O, The Oprah Magazine

During some days - and countless insomniac nights - my mind plays an endless reel.  It spins from work nightmares, to worries about my sons, to random thoughts that pop in and out.  I try and calm them through yogic breathing, and sometimes that works, but because I’m an anxious person, about 75% of the time I just have to let it play out, until I fall asleep or am distracted by something that takes me out of myself.

Weike Wang’s debut novel Chemistry is like a master class in this kind of free floating anxiety.  If that sounds like a chore of a book to read, strangely, it’s the opposite.  It’s a laugh-out loud marvel. But that doesn’t mean it’s not intense - and that wry intensity is underscored by Wang’s writing style, a kind of staccato on the page. Wang’s spare prose makes all of her emotions - both happy and sad - pack all the more punch.

The unnamed protagonist is a budding scientist who’s getting tired of her chosen profession, unable to make any breakthroughs in her doctoral research. She also can’t bring herself to marry her boyfriend of many years, who may or may not move away depending on her answer.  We are guests inside her head, as she ping pongs from nervous thought to nervous thought while trying to figure out what she truly wants in life, cracking us up and reminding us to laugh at ourselves as we twist ourselves into pretzels on a daily basis. Sprinkled throughout are tidbits about chemistry that double as metaphors for all sorts of human emotions'”I loved them and I’m definitely not a science girl. Seeing the world through the lens of chemistry is novel, if only as a reminder that the messiness of life follows no particular formula. And sometimes that’s okay.

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Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She's tormented by her failed research'”and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there's another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding success on her own.

Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she's confronted with a question she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry'”one in which the reactions can't be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

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