Book: Atmospheric Disturbances

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Book:

Atmospheric Disturbances: A Novel

Author: Rivka Galchen
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Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

When Dr. Leo Liebenstein’s wife disappears, she leaves behind a single, confounding clue: a woman who looks, talks, and behaves exactly like her—or almost exactly like her—and even audaciously claims to be her. While everyone else is fooled by this imposter, Leo knows better than to trust his senses in matters of the heart. Certain that the original Rema is alive and in hiding, Leo embarks on a quixotic journey to reclaim his lost love.  With the help of his psychiatric patient Harvey—who believes himself to be a secret agent who can control the weather—Leo attempts to unravel the mystery of the spousal switch. His investigation leads him to the enigmatic guidance of the meteorologist Dr. Tzvi Gal-Chen, the secret workings of the Royal Academy of Meteorology in their cosmic conflict with the 49 Quantum Fathers, and the unwelcome conviction that somehow he—or maybe his wife, or maybe even Harvey—lies at the center of all these unfathomables. From the streets of New York to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia, Leo’s erratic quest becomes a test of how far he is willing to take his struggle against the seemingly uncontestable truth he knows in his heart to be false.  

Atmospheric Disturbances is at once a moving love story, a dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a deeply disturbing portrait of a fracturing mind. With tremendous compassion and dazzling literary sophistication, Rivka Galchen investigates the moment of crisis when you suddenly realize that the reality you insist upon is no longer one you can accept, and the person you love has become merely the person you live with. This highly inventive debut explores the mysterious nature of human relationships, and how we spend our lives trying to weather the storms of our own making.

Reviews

Amazon.com

Imagine what it might be like to realize that the person you love is, in fact, not the person you love but a doppelgänger: or, what Leo Liebenstein coolly terms a “simulacrum” of his wife Rema at the outset of Atmospheric Disturbances. David Byrne’s infamous cry that “this is not my beautiful wife” seems the most likely response, but Leo’s reaction to this sea change takes unpredictable and dazzlingly plotted turns in the story that follows. Leo’s journey to recover the “real” Rema is nothing short of byzantine; among its many mysteries is the delightfully inscrutable Dr. Tzvi Gal-Chen, a master meteorologist who in cleverly constructed flashback sequences takes up residence in the daily rhythms of Leo and Rema’s marriage and becomes as much a focus of Leo’s obsession as his wife’s whereabouts. (Think Vertigo but directed by Charlie Kaufman.) Make no mistake: this is dizzying debut fiction, bursting at the spine with beautifully articulated ideas about love, yes, but also—and with maddening resonance—about the private wars love forces us to wage with ourselves. Be sure to keep a pen or pencil handy: it’s impossible to resist underlining prose this good. —Anne Bartholomew

Barnes and Noble

If Charlotte Perkins Gilman of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” fame had collaborated with Philip K. Dick to rewrite Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, the hallucinatory result might remind you of Rivka Galchen’s debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances. The well-ordered life of psychoanalyst Leo Liebenstein has been lent color and quirky charm by his exotic flower of a wife, Buenos Aires–born Rema. But panic and disorientation set in one day when, upon the most dubious of subliminal clues, Leo decides she has been replaced by a “simulacrum,” an imposter who, for reasons unknown, has taken the place of the real Rema. The manic fugue state and search that follows dovetails curiously with the paranoid fantasies of Leo’s patient Harvey, who believes he is a secret agent in the employ of the Royal Academy of Meteorology, using weather manipulation in battle against the sinister 49 Quantum Fathers. Galchen’s ingenious metaphorical play with meteorology, taken together with her conspiracy-based game playing, suggests a heavy influence from Thomas Pynchon. (“49” Quantum Fathers indeed!) But whereas the trials of Oedipa Maas, however surreal, achieved an indisputable earthbound objectivity, the unreliable first-person narration by a plainly psychotic Dr. Leo lends a tone of deadpan fever dream to the whole of the narrative. Like Rima the Venezuelan Bird Girl in W. H. Hudson’s Green Mansions—an earlier Latina victim of “civilized” intervention—this Rema is also “killed” by a mind rendered disordered by the Anglo disease of too much thinking: Galchen’s ultimate villain. —Paul DiFilippo

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