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Atmospheric Disturbances: A Novel Hardcover – May 27, 2008

3.1 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 Leo Liebenstein sets off to find his wife, Rema, who he believes has been replaced by a simulacrum.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)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 239 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374200114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374200114
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,281,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steve Benner VINE VOICE on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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