Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Atmospheric Disturbances-Rivka Galchen

Atmospheric Disturbances-Rivka Galchen

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 240
gender: F
nationality: Canada
year: 2008

When Dr. Leo Liebenstein’s wife disappears, she leaves behind a single, confounding clue: a woman who looks, talks, and behaves exactly like her—or almost exactly like her—and even audaciously claims to be her. While everyone else is fooled by this imposter, Leo knows better than to trust his senses in matters of the heart. Certain that the original Rema is alive and in hiding, Leo embarks 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 the mystery of the spousal switch. His investigation leads him to the enigmatic guidance of the meteorologist Dr. Tzvi Gal-Chen, the secret workings of the Royal Academy of Meteorology in their cosmic conflict with the 49 Quantum Fathers, and the unwelcome conviction that somehow he—or maybe his wife, or maybe even Harvey—lies at the center of all these unfathomables. From the streets of New York to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia, Leo’s erratic quest becomes a test of how far he is willing to take his struggle against the seemingly uncontestable truth he knows in his heart to be false. 

I don’t know what happened. I started reading this and really enjoying it.

There’s a heavy Pynchon and Borgés influence on the main character, Leo, and a heavy Murakami influence on the rest. Leo is a psychiatrist (and it’s clear the author knows a lot about psychiatry) and he’s having a great life until he notices that his wife has been replaced with a simulacrum . This disturbingly connects to a patient of his who is convinced he is part of a secret society that controls the weather. And thus Leo’s insanity begins. I started out liking this way of approaching the age old question of what happens when you have that moment when you think What Am I Doing With My Life? And How Did I Get Here? I thought it was hilarious. I chuckled at Leo’s artful pseudo scientific rationalizations. I enjoyed the secret society machinations. I was enjoying learning about Leo from how he interacts with the world around him. 

And then overnight, it got not funny. I ended up not enjoying it at all. It got dense and I felt bogged down with everything. The self-sabotage was too obvious (I prefer post-modern self-sabotage that is more subtle).  I ended up wondering whether the first half was actually funny or whether I was just in a very strange mood when I was reading it.

I don't know what to say about the book. I liked it and then despite little change in the book's style I started to dislike it. 

I’m thinking I should begin avoiding books in which the author uses their own last name. Tzvi Gal-Chen never speaks but he becomes a focal point for Leo’s descent into chaos which just…is a literary conceit I’ve yet to enjoy.  I suspect Tzvi is based on Rivka’s own father who must have been some sort of meteorologist because there was a remarkable backstory to Tzvi full of legitimate articles and Doppler expertise. Well done backstory but still...

EDIT: My suspicions are true…this novel is a love letter to her father and “an excuse for her to write his name down over and over”.  Which is cute but still a conceit I get annoyed by.

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