CBR15PASSPORT (Stamp #2: Books recommended by friends. Friends, grocery store clerks, Cannonballers, everyone who has ever read it….)
Everyone on the planet has probably read this book already. Many of you reviewed it. It took me forever to actually get to it myself. And I have reasons. So, this will mostly be a review (Can I call it a review? I’m going to call it a review.) about why it took me so long to read a book that hit pretty much all of my buttons. A novel full of quirky but relatable characters dealing with tragedy, terrible childhoods, trauma, and shitty people, in order to live their lives the best way they can figure out.
Here is where I out myself as a cover judger. I have a weird aversion to, and tendency to dismiss, books with this style of cover. I know there is a strong romance reading contingent here and I, in fact, do quite a bit of reading in that particular vein as well. But something in my darker depths wants to immediately reject books with this kind of cover. The kitschy people leaning to kiss over a desk with one foot up in the air. Paper cut-out-looking couples crowned by block text with a cheeky little bit of cursive. Objects that you just know are going to be fraught with plot significance: a bench, a ladder, a boardwalk or boat dock, an airplane, a domesticated. And someone is usually leaning. Leaning towards, leaning away. Why is there so much leaning?? Clearly, I have feelings about these covers. The problem is that those feelings can be a roadblock for me.
This book was showing up everywhere. This book that I assumed was about a meet-cute between mismatched lab partners in a high school chemistry class. (It is not.) This book that I assumed centered around a sassy girl with a single tendril of hair always falling out of her updo who accidentally starts a fire in her chemistry lab. (She did not.) This book that I assumed contained a super cute, nerdy and frustrated lab partner who has to put the aforementinoned fire out to save their lives and their class grade. (He did not.) Had I actually read any of the many reviews about it (falling on my sword here for sure) I could have saved myself some time and just read it already.
Well, I finally did read it and loved everything about it. Garmus’ novel centers on Elizabeth Zott, a young woman in the early 1960s who refuses to stay in her own lane. Instead of going to college for her “MRS”, she studies for a chemistry degree. Before the sexual revolution of the 1960’s gears up, she moves in with her boyfriend. Instead of cooking for her family of four, she cooks up lab experiments. Her choices may be unconventional but are always practical. If everyone would just get of her way, she could get on with it.
Garmus harnesses all the tropes of a half-hour family sitcom from the 1950s and 1960s: the nosy neighbor, the grumpy boss, the jealous office girl, the frustrated husband of the uppity wife, and turns them on their head. It’s a peek behind the curtain of televised domestic perfection revealing, among many other things, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and wage inequality. It’s heartwarming and sad and laugh-out-loud funny but I really want a word with the publisher who decided that cover was okay.