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Atmospheric Disturbances: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Rivka Galchen
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, June 2008: 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

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this enthralling debut, psychiatrist Dr. Leo Liebenstein sets off to find his wife, Rema, who he believes has been replaced by a simulacrum. Also missing is one of Leo's patients, Harvey, who is convinced he receives coded messages (via Page Six in the New York Post) from the Royal Academy of Meteorology to control the weather. At Rema's urging, Leo pretends during his sessions with Harvey to be a Royal Academy agent (she thinks the fib could help break through to Harvey), and once Re- ma and Leo disappear, Leo turns to actual Royal Academy member Tzvi Gal-Chen's meteorological work to guide him in his search for his wife. Leo's quest takes him through Buenos Aires and Patagonia, and as he becomes increasingly delusional and erratic, Galchen adeptly reveals the actual situation to readers, including Rema's anguish and anger at her husband. Leo's devotion to the real Rema is heartbreaking and maddening; he cannot see that the woman he seeks has been with him all along. Don't be surprised if this gives you a Crying of Lot 49 nostalgia hit. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 594 KB
  • Print Length: 260 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 031242843X
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0017T0BSE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,360 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of an ink-blot than a story-plot? August 3, 2008
Be warned: despite its publisher's synopsis, this book is not another rewrite of Jack Finney's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"! Instead, Rivka Galchen's "Atmospheric Disturbances" may just do for Capgras Syndrome (a rare mental disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that someone they know has been replaced by an identical-seeming impostor) what Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" did for Asperger Syndrome (and autism generally) back in 2003. Told from a similar first-person perspective, "Atmospheric Disturbances" chronicles the increasingly irrational behaviour of its protagonist as he attempts to track down and recover his real wife following her mysterious replacement one night by a doppelganger. But whereas Mark Haddon spends most of his book building up the reader's empathy with (or at least sympathetic understanding of) his teenage autistic protagonist, before finally making us aware of just how far from any understanding or real empathy we are, Rivka Galchen engages us mostly with the puzzle that her protagonist is himself battling to solve.

The central puzzle afflicting clinical psychiatrist Dr Leo Liebenstein is essentially the unexplained disappearance of his wife, Rema, and her replacement with a simulacrum which only Leo recognises as not being the real Rema.
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45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ingenious but tedious October 18, 2008
As much as this book is ingenious, clever, unique, poetic, and philosophical, I regret to say that it's tedious. There is simply no momentum, after the first 25 pages. The relationships have no plausibility. There is not enough plot, not enough real life. The main character does not "read" believably as a middle aged man. His mental life does not hang together as a genuine possibility. Events don't seem real. While reading I keep feeling like I was counting grains of sand, or sifting through cookie crumbs, or maybe sinking in quick sand. Although the amusing, clever gems kept coming, the novel didn't create a palpable world I could enter into.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Neither atmospheric nor disturbing March 21, 2009
While browsing the "New Books" shelf at my library, I picked up this book, which begins: "Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife." Intrigued, I stood and read the first couple of pages and thought, "I must read this". Sadly, I have to report that the book does not live up to its promise.

When the protagonist, New York psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein, arrives at this conclusion, he is also dealing with a patient, Harvey, who believes that he is receiving secret orders from the Royal Academy of Meteorology in controlling the world's weather. Leo's "false" wife, Rema, whom he refers to as "the simulacrum", suggests that he pretend to be an agent of the RAM as well, transmitting directions from a meteorologist named Tsvi Gal-Chen. The relationship between this therapeutic fraud and Leo's search for the real Rema are the crux of Galchen's book.

Now, am I right? Those plots, and their intertwining, ought to make for good reading. But Galchen's prose is so dense and convoluted that it was hard to get through the book, much less enjoy it. I don't mind that it's never clear whether Liebenstein is himself suffering from mental illness (some reviews firmly state that he is suffering from Capgras Syndrome, though Galchen is never definite) or whether Rema really has been replaced by a fake. Nor do I mind that it's unclear whether the RAM really is trying to stop a cabal of errant meteorologists. What I do mind is that Galchen never makes me care about the outcome or her characters, so at the end (which is very unsatisfying, by the way) I just felt as though my struggle to finish had been a waste of time.
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43 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable, dull, sad and unengaging July 15, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I never believed that the narrator's voice belonged to a middle aged man. His behavior is inexplicable without raising my curiosity. Many pieces of the story go oon for several chapters then peter out. Many favorites' names are mentioned to sell this book- however: "Vertigo" is engaging and beautiful. Charlie Kauffman writes funny pieces bristling with empathy. Borges rarely wrote anything longer than ten pages because he wanted his stories to be perfect. Rivka Galchen's promoters are over reaching to imagine that any reader will find corollaries to these masterpieces in her prose. It's too melancholy, too long, wretchedly impersonal and eventually just dull. I gave up after 200 pages. It's a big disappointment.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could not make myself care about the characters November 6, 2008
This is a book constructed by a writer with an exceptional talent for language, but the substance of the story was lacking. I would love to read a straigh-ahead Galchen story that wasn't trying so hard to be obtuse. The characters were not authentic, the relationships were not meaningful and the pace and plot very inconsistent. For this to be described in some ways as an exploration of love and relationships completely misses the mark. It reads like a series of disconnected short stories with a murky theme and a main character that I didn't like, care about or feel for.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly fulfilling
Bear with Ms. Galchen through the seemingly random and misguided adventures of a novel that shamelessly assigns the authors name to a major character and you will find you are not... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Seth Roskos
1.0 out of 5 stars Most Boring Book I ever read.
This was the most boring book I ever had the misfortune to read. I kept hoping it was going to get better since
some editor thought it worthy of publishing. I was so wrong! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gloria Levitt
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Published 2 months ago by jack fulcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Comic but strangely sincere post-modern meditation on authenticity
Atmospheric Disturbances is adorably intriguing; it belongs to a tradition of the literary fantastic on the upper ranks of which we find Bruno Schulz, Leo Pertuz, Alexander... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Molly
5.0 out of 5 stars Word Play, Identity Play, Delightful
I had never heard of Rivka Galchen until her hilarious short story "The Lost Order" appeared in the January 7, 2013 issue of The New Yorker. Read more
Published on February 10, 2013 by Constant Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars A Disturbing Novel
ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES is a disturbing book - as I'm sure it was meant to be. It is told from the viewpoint of a crazy psychiatrist who imagines that his real wife has... Read more
Published on January 23, 2013 by Chris Beal
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely unusual
This is a very odd book about a man with Capgras Syndrome, although it's never identified by that name. Read more
Published on October 23, 2011 by Martha E. Pollack
1.0 out of 5 stars A Rather Disturbing Read
This was a rather disturbing read - mostly stream of consciousness from a likely deranged individual. Read more
Published on May 2, 2011 by petesea
5.0 out of 5 stars don't believe the lack of hype
I have to rate this novel with all the stars I can, in part because I think a lot of people have expected Galchen to write a very different book than she did. Read more
Published on April 1, 2011 by laura joakimson
4.0 out of 5 stars Peering into the mind of insanity
There's a reason why a lot of people have rated this book poorly and complained that it makes no sense -- the narrator isn't merely telling a story, he's meant to be psychotic. Read more
Published on November 25, 2010 by Edward Weiss
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