A runaway hit, “Lessons in Chemistry” is a sparky, socially aware novel that centers on a single mother in the strait-laced America of the early 1960s. A dogged, resolutely rational scientist battling the forces of misogyny and patriarchalism before feminism, the young chemist accidentally falls into hosting a national cooking show, on which her earnest scientific views threaten to overturn housewives’ lives. The first third of the novel, in which the author imaginatively and with great brio thrusts us into the era and the various lives of the characters, works spectacularly well, at once propulsive, entertaining, and often funny. And the pell-mell climax, in which the various narrative strands come together, and a mystery is revealed, felt most satisfying to me as reader. The middle section was less successful, at least in my humble opinion, with characterization forced and the style less vivacious. All in all, Lessons in Chemistry entertains while mildly provoking, making for a hearty three-night read.