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Atmospheric Disturbances: A Novel Hardcover – May 27, 2008
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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 Leo Liebenstein sets off to find his wife, Rema, who he believes has been replaced by a simulacrum.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)
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As he proceeds on his quest, which takes him to Argentina, Leo consistently psychoanalyzes himself and others in an effort to remain convinced of his own sanity, and Galchen seems to have a firm grasp of the shop talk. But is he really mad, or are all the strange happenings not just in his mind? For much of the novel we tend to opt for the former explanation, but then things start to confirm his "delusions."
Of course I won't reveal the ending, but I will offer a reservation. The reader has some work to do to gain a clear picture of how this narrator's mind works and/or how his world turns. At times we wade so far into his brooding that we need hip boots, and we might wonder if it will be worth the effort. And yet, in its best moments, the novel insinuates itself into the tradition of the great writers of distorted realities such Franz Kafak and Thomas Pynchon, and in fact Galchen's 49 is probably an homage to Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.
If Atmospheric Disturbances sounds like your thing, you might also try The Testing of Luther Albright by MacKensie Bezos. Her protagonist is not as odd as Galchen's, but Luther also has a few screws that need tightening. This is a beautifully crafted psychological study in which everything in the external world correlates with cracks and stresses in Luther's mind. Is the dam he designed defective? Did he err when installing the plumbing in his house? For a controlling person like Luther Albright, these issues are symbolic of flaws in his relationships, or in his perceptions of them. Tension builds slowly, and the inner demons begin to emerge like cracks in a damn, or in the living room plaster.
Both of these are fine first novels.
Galchen is a fearless, inventive trickster who plays with time, identities, relationships, and gender-bending. Her writing appears effortless, but this cannot be so. She is very young, and very ambitious. "The Lost Order," my moment of first contact with Galchen, staggered me more in its nervy hilarity than "Atmospheric Disturbances," but she is a writer I am going to follow closely.
It is an unpredictable mystery. You never know what will happen next. The main character weaves in and out of reality and his logic is so unpredictable. It's a really great book. Pick it up, and you'll be hooked.
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some editor thought it worthy of publishing. I was so wrong!Read more