Chemistry by Weike Wang [in Library Journal]
After spontaneously cutting off eight inches of hair, Wang’s never-named narrator returns to her chemistry lab and smashes five beakers. She insists, “Beakers are cheap,” yet the personal price is inestimable: the shattered vessels parallel an equal number of portentous changes involving her PhD program, her boyfriend, her parents, her understanding of her own self, the future she expected. As the only child of demanding Chinese immigrants, she’s always been an achiever – until she isn’t.
Having witnessed more angry accusations than nurturing support between her parents, she’s panicked rather than joyful by her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. While he applies for teaching appointments, she distracts herself with alcohol, the dog, and occasional calls to her pregnant best friend in another city. Untethered, she must discover the right formula that might propel her forward.
Despite a captivating opening and poignant ending, the muddled middle devolves into tedious clichés, from the near-perfect child fearful of disappointing her tiger parents to the culturally blinded, privileged white man, to the over-achieving new mother with the philandering husband.
Wang, herself a Harvard chemistry major, debuts what could have been a clever, witty novel of self-discovery. More effective might ultimately have been a distilled short story.