Atmospheric Disturbances, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (1 rating)


`Last December, a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife...' Dr Leo Liebenstein is convinced that his wife has disappeared and that she has been replaced by a double.While everyone else may be fooled, Leo knows she cannot be his real wife, and sets off on a quixotic journey to reclaim his lost love.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 this mystery.

Why has his wife been replaced? What do the secret workings of The Royal Society of Meteorology have to do with it?

Who is the enigmatic Dr. Tzvi Gal-Chen, and is he, or maybe his wife, or perhaps even Harvey, at the centre of it all?

From the streets of New York to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia, Leo's erratic quest ultimately becomes a test of how far he is willing to take his struggle against the uncontested truth he knows 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.

In this highly inventive debut, with tremendous compassion and dazzling literary sophistication, Rivka Galchen explores the mysterious nature of human relationships, and how we spend our lives trying to weather the storms of our own making.


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I picked up "Atmospheric Disturbances" after reading a piece that Rivka Galchen wrote for Harper's. She argued that Daedalus, who built Icarus's wings and successfully escaped from the maze, might be a better metaphor for science's work than his son, Icarus, who is remembered mostly for his hubris and tragic demise. I thought that this was a pretty striking idea, so I'm sorry to say that I felt a bit let down by Galchen's debut novel. Like her essay, it's inspired by science – Galchen introduces her meteorologist father as a character and has a good ear for the accidental poetry of scientific terminology. Her writing's her own, too; it's quirky and occasionally very funny. Still, this novel proves what anyone who's already sat through "The Butcher Boy" or read Bessie Head's "A Question of Power" already knows – novels told from the perspective of the disturbed tend to be pretty disturbing, and, in the end, sort of tedious. The metaphor that Galchen's unhinged narrator uses to describe his unraveling relationship to reality is, appropriately enough, inspired by science and, again, very clever, but I'm not sure it makes her novel any easier to read. I also might have been put off by the fact that "Atmospheric Disturbances" treads the same territory as Richard Powers's "The Echo Maker," another novel that I found interesting but also sort of dry. While I admire both Galchen and Powers's willingness to write novels that engage with current scientific theory, it's possible that I'm just too much of a Modernist to enjoy them. I still think that there's a lot left to say about the things that don't show up too easily on a CAT scan: memory, consciousness, and, as Faulkner put it, "the conflicts of the human heart."

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