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Atmospheric Disturbances [Paperback]

Rivka Galchen
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 28 2009 1554680557 978-1554680559 Reprint

While everyone else may be fooled, psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein knows better. His wife is not his wife. She is a dead-ringer—a doppelganger—but something is very wrong. This isn’t Rema. Could it be that his wife is involved in some infidelity? But why would infidelity lead to disappearance? Or false appearance? With nothing for Leo to go on except a potential clue relating to one of his patients, Harvey—a man who believes he is a secret agent with control over the weather—Leo sets off on a humorous and science-steeped odyssey to unravel the mystery of his missing wife and to resolve Harvey’s “conflict with the consensus view of reality.” Moving from New York City to the southern reaches of Patagonia, Atmospheric Disturbances is a brilliantly inventive and addictive adventure, mixed with a scientific exploration of the uncontested truths we know are false.


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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 Leo Liebenstein sets off to find his wife, Rema, who he believes has been replaced by a simulacrum.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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"What?s real? Who?s who? Can we believe anything? Hard to say in this story of psychotherapist Leo, who thinks his wife has been replaced by a doppelgänger. Playful, disturbing, heartbreaking."

(NOW Magazine)

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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hope for the Hopeless? Aug. 18 2009
Format:Paperback
I hope that I never end up on the couch of a psychoanalyst as delusional as "Leo".

Despite it's promising sticker "Finalist the GGs" I think that this book needed a more definite conclusion and some better editing throughout.

I was left with the same sensation that I was left with after reading "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" which is best expressed as - "So what".
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Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  65 reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of an ink-blot than a story-plot? Aug. 3 2008
By Steve Benner - Published on Amazon.com
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. The story-line elucidates this puzzle through various bizarre complexities, most of which centre on Leo's conviction that his wife's disappearance must be linked to the disappearance of one of his own psychiatric patients, Harvey, and the particular details of Harvey's delusions (or "deviations from the consensus view", as Leo is careful to call them) that he has special powers, enabling him to control various aspects of the weather, as a result of which he is frequently sent on secret assignments, communicated to him via coded messages in the New York Post, on behalf of the Royal Academy of Meteorology in their on-going struggle across various parallel universes against the machinations of the 49 Quantum Fathers.

I fear, though, that in presenting Leo's predicament as her main subject, with the steps taken to resolve it seemingly supplying the central story-arc, the author may have set a trap for herself--or rather for her readers, many of whom will probably expect this puzzle to be played out and solved (or at least explained) by the end of the book. Such readers may be sadly disappointed if they don't manage to pick out the real subject or story-line of the book along the way. Similarly, any readers who expect the book to offer any explanations or revelations beyond the issues it turns over (or more accurately, I suppose, mulls over) as it progresses will similarly be disappointed. And quite possibly bewildered.

There are times when "Atmospheric Disturbances" can be extremely bewildering if you do not work to keep up. And Rivka Galchen really does expect her readers to work hard and to keep up mostly on their own. She does not go back to rescue anyone who falls by the wayside. For those of a mind to keep up, the book's strength lies not so much in where it goes, as in the countless ambiguities and possibilities for digressions that it throws up for the reader (as well as the protagonist) along the way.

If you are looking for a story in this book, you will probably be disappointed. Rather, what it does is to peg on to its story-line a series of explorations of many things, without ever connecting any of them explicitly, leaving each reader to connect the dots as they see fit--a kind of narrative equivalent of the psychologists' Rorschach ink-blot. It is a book that revels in the (often unintentional) poetry that is to be found in specialist scientific writings and which explores the potential of what happens when one re-attaches emotional significance but reduced understanding of the specifics, to a scientific phraseology which is supposedly devoid of emotion and which expects a high level of understanding of the specifics of its subject matter. The author explores love, and loss, and people's feelings about their place in the world, while at the same time exposing as bogus any notion that there is in fact such a thing as a reality which we all must accept and which is necessarily the same for everyone.

In blending her own background (she qualified as an MD specialising in Psychiatry) and her experiences of Argentina with the characters of both Leo and Rema, and in introducing her own real-life father (a world-renowned research meteorologist who died in 1994) and his actual scientific writings as one of the central characters in the puzzle facing her (fictional) protagonist, the author blurs the distinction between real and invented and between story-telling and fact. Her use of real, solid science (and her refusal to dumb that down to make it more accessible) as a basis for Leo's rationalisations of his (often bizarre) course of actions lead the reader further down avenues of uncertainty about whether Leo is indeed caught up in some vast conspiracy, whether there is some other tangential conspiracy into which he is merely being drawn, or whether he is, in fact, merely delusional. (After all, just because he's paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get him, does it?) The further into the book one gets, the more blurred become all of the distinctions between reality and fancy. Which is the whole point entirely. And which might leave many feeling that all-in-all this book is far too clever for its own good!

Ultimately, you may find you need to invest a lot of effort to get anything out of this book. Whether you will then find that worthwhile... well, that's not for me to say!
40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ingenious but tedious Oct. 18 2008
By Anna Karenina - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars what is it about, anyway? July 28 2009
By Massimo Pigliucci - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's about a not-so-slow descent into insanity on the part of the main character, who is also the narrator. The twist is that the crazy nut is himself a psychiatrist, and he enlists one of his own patients to solve the apparent mystery at the heart of the book. Of course, there is no solution to the mystery because there is no real mystery. Or is there? It's a pretty good idea, but I'm pretty sure the author could have done much, much better with it. The book is enjoyable as far as it goes, and I did manage to finish it despite a couple of really low points at which I was seriously tempted to move on to something else. What could have been dealt with significantly better is, perhaps not surprisingly, the ending. But I won't go there because I would have to write something that would spoil your reading. Assuming you are crazy enough to get through the book, of course.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I didn't get it. Nov. 30 2008
By C.A. Wulff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a very strange book.

Some reviewers have likened Galchen to Murakami, but although both writers paint surreal landscapes with words, Murakami's landscapes are masterpieces along the lines of Salvadore Dali, Galchen is more like Gregoire Michonze.

Galchen's main character is a psychiatrist who one day looks at his wife and convinces himself that she is an imposter. Her "disappearance" inexplicably coincides with the disappearance of one of his patients. While "searching" for his "real wife", he becomes an imposter himself: to his patient, his mother-in-law and any number of individuals linked to a covert meteorological society that purports to control the weather.

I didn't like Atmospheric Disturbances. The perspective of the main character is so delusionally skewed that it made me feel mentally ill as I tried to keep up with his train of illogical thought. I found the discussions on meteorology tedious and the allegories difficult to grasp. I have a deep suspicion that I Just Didn't Get It.

Although the story hooked me and drew me in, I found it an almost entirely joyless read.

C.A.Wulff - author of Born Without a Tail
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Neither atmospheric nor disturbing March 21 2009
By mojosmom - Published on Amazon.com
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.

The fact that Galchen uses her own surname, names a person called "Tsvi" in the acknowledgements, and, as one discovers with a bit of research, has used parts of her father's work and history in her book, could have given the novel extra depth, but in Galchen's hands seem merely self-indulgent.

Give it a miss.
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