When Dr. Leo Liebenstein’s wife disappears, she leaves behind a single confounding clue: a woman who looks, talks, and behaves exactly like her. A simulatcrum. But Leo is not fooled, and he knows better than to trust his senses in matters of the heart. Certain that the real Rema is alive and in hiding, he embarks on a quixotic journey to reclaim her. With the help of his psychiatric patient Harvey–who believes himself to be a secret agent able to conrtol the weather–his investigation leads him from the streets of New York City to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia, in search of the woman he loves. Atmospheric Disturbances is a “witty, tender, and conceptually dazzling” (Booklist) novel about the mysterious nature of human relationships.
I wanted to love Rivka Galchen’s debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances. It has an intriguing premise–the novel begins with Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife: psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein just knows that his wife Rema isn’t his wife Rema, but an “impostor,” a “simulacrum,” an “ersatz wife.” It’s a beginning that gave me goosebumps, something told me this would be a great read. The language was wonderful, detailed, disarmingly skewed–the narrator has a way of looking at something so normal in a completely different way–and I suppose this applies not only to his desriptions, but to his worldview in general.
I recognized that it was a refreshingly original way of looking at the whole “My spouse is a different person now,” “My spouse isn’t the person I thought she would/should be” kind of thing. I get that. I was impressed by the whole metereological and psychoanalytical offshoots, I loved the cleverness, that skewedness I referred to above.
And I believed Leo. I believed that he didn’t feel that this ersatz wife wasn’t Rema. When I started to realize that Leo is one of the most unreliable narrator’s I’ve ever come across, I still went along. It was fun, for one thing–amazing, impressive, and the language just draws you in.
But I wanted the book to be more than a guessing game.
It never did become more than that. It’s as impressive as Paul Auster’s stylistic and technique-wielding meta-ish narratives–but, as Auster does, Galchen left me cold. I made it to page 150 before I threw my hands up and just skimmed the pages looking for helpful bits to help me unravel this sabog [can’t translate that, harhar] novel. Yeah, I gave up. Sorry. And I feel bad about this, because it began promising enough—–and I gleefully went along with it. But up to a certain point, well, bah. BAH, I tell you. Leo became whiny, delusional, psychotic, exasperating. And nothing at all is resolved. NOTHING. Grumble grumble.
I find it hard to talk about the wonderful things in this book because I’m just too overwhelmed by how exasperated I am–YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THE BEST BOOK EVER, OK?! Augh. I hate this. I could cry.
Atmospheric Disturbances is far too clever. And I thought you’d be such a kick-ass experience. If I were to go meta on your ass the way you did with me, you’re not what I thought you were. How do you like them apples? Grumble grumble grumble.