I read a lot of books that are smart or interesting or creative and those can be fun and worthwhile but they don’t touch my heart. They don’t present characters that, though fictional, feel real and relatable. They aren’t moving in a way that puts a lump in your throat and leaves you uncertain of whether to laugh or cry. For me, Chemistry by Weike Wang did all of those things. I feel into it, got wrapped up in it and adored every minute of it.
The main character is a grad student working on her PhD but her boyfriend Eric (who has just proposed) is a determined and well-adjusted graduate, her best friend is a successful doctor, her father has made it from China to America, learned English and made it through graduate school himself. This all makes it increasingly impossible for her not compare herself or stand up to the pressure from her parents. Her story is specific but her feelings of uncertainty and not knowing what to do or which path to take are so universal. I felt heartbroken for the narrator but I also felt heartbroken for everyone who has felt lost, myself included.
Have you ever taken a class where you were told “show, don’t tell”? This book felt like the epitome of showing. The narrator doesn’t need to tell you her parents are hard on her because she relays moments from her childhood where her father drills her with mathematical equations or shares a heartbreaking phone call where she confesses she cannot finish her PhD only to have her mother say, “You are nothing to me without that degree.” Snipets of interactions and conversation between she and Eric do more to paint a picture of their relationship than any description could. The prose is concise yet says so much. I loved this about the book. And tonally, it is both amusing and gut-wrenching, striking the perfect balance between the two.
This book is so endearing and I hope, if you pick it up, that you’ll love it as much as I did ♥
Remember when I read/reviewed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August way back in 2015? Or remember when I read that one Dan Brown book (The Lost Symbol) way way back in 2008?? Okay, you probably don’t remember that second one because it was before I started putting my life on the internet, but the point is, Dark Matter reminded me of those two books (both of which I really enjoyed!) and I liked this one a lot too. Allow me to explain.
A Brief Synopsis: Jason Dessen is a college psychics professor who put his research ambitions aside to have time for his wife (Daniella) and son (Charlie) but as he’s walking home alone one night, he’s abducted and wakes up in another universe where he is a celebrated physicist, but he’s also a complete bachelor. He’s switched lives with the version of himself who decided not to have a family or put aside his career and it’s that other version that’s now living HIS life, with HIS wife and HIS son. The rest of the book involves a black box that gives Jason access to the “multiverse” and enter all kinds of different universes where different versions of Jason made all types of different life choices and ended up in worlds that are different than HIS world, the only one he’s desperate to get back to.
In conclusion: SCIENCE. It reminded me of The Lost Symbol in that it involved an abduction and sensory deprivation stuff (though in this book, it involved a drug that altered your mind… or something) and it reminded me of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August in that I didn’t fully understand the quantum physics of the whole plot but had to be okay with that in order to just enjoy the novel. Sometimes you just have to understand it enough to not be totally lost, sort of like when you read Shakespeare. Hey, I guess I did learn something useful in college!
Anyway, I really did find this book fascinating and creative in a way that made it a real page-turner. I also think it tapped into a question we all ask ourselves at some point: What if? Life is nothing but a series of decisions, some big, some small, and it’s impossible not to imagine what your life would be like if you made any number of different decisions. If this book taught me anything, it’s that the decisions you didn’t make sucked and all the ones you did make were for the best. Okay, not really but it does put everything into perspective. It also makes for a mind-bending, entertainingly bizarre read that really sucked me in.
What are you reading?