- The Good: Chemistry and cooking; women promoting women
- The Bad: Lack of diversity; over the top sexism
- The Literary: An eight year old who reads The Sound and the Fury
Chemist Elizabeth Zott fights to be treated seriously as a scientist, but in the early 1960s at the all-male team at Hastings Research Institute, there’s only one person who sees her brilliant mind, the lonely, Nobel-prize nominated Calvin Evans. They fall in love and are happy for a short time, until Elizabeth ends up an unemployed single mother who lands a cooking show with a science twist Supper at Six.
Although the romance doesn’t quite do it for me, I have plenty of warm feels every time a woman supports another woman in this book. The chemistry based cooking show is a cute gimmick, and ideally there would have been a lot more gastronomy, but the show (and the story) really comes into its own when Elizabeth provides a place where she validates “women’s work”, assumes her audience smart enough to handle concepts like thermodynamics and atomic bonding, and expects them to believe in themselves, study, and follow their dreams. I’m inspired to encourage others to believe in themselves and not be boxed in by others’ expectations of them. The goal isn’t to for men to take women seriously, it’s for us to take ourselves seriously, and promote and support each other.
Unfortunately, there are several tropes this story employs of which I am quite bored:
- Lack of diversity; that is, a focus on white feminism, with only the barest acknowledgement that there are other genders, races, and classes that experience obstacles. The prime years of the civil rights movement were the early sixties!
- A highly intelligent woman who is also quirky to the extreme of being on the spectrum. I know this works for Sherlock Holmes, but how about a brilliant chemist who isn’t also logical to a fault and socially awkward?
- Every man, save Elizabeth’s dead husband and the man who gives her a TV show is absolutely terrible. She’s constantly sexually harassed and abused by misogynistic men who see her as someone worthy only of making coffee.
- A POV that jumps quickly between the thoughts of every person in the scene, including the dog, Six-thirty. This is surprisingly jarring, and although meant to be cute, it doesn’t add to the story.
With all that said, I do recommend this book, especially for fans of Queen’s Gambit or Hidden Figures, and the series adaption will debut on Apple TV in 2023. For a scifi twist on similar themes, also try The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal.