Atmospheric Disturbances

By RIVKA GALCHEN

If Charlotte Perkins Gilman of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” fame had collaborated with Philip K. Dick to rewrite Jack Finney?s The Body Snatchers, the hallucinatory result might remind you of Rivka Galchen?s debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances. The well-ordered life of psychoanalyst Leo Liebenstein has been lent color and quirky charm by his exotic flower of a wife, Buenos Aires–born Rema. But panic and disorientation set in one day when, upon the most dubious of subliminal clues, Leo decides she has been replaced by a “simulacrum,” an imposter who, for reasons unknown, has taken the place of the real Rema. The manic fugue state and search that follows dovetails curiously with the paranoid fantasies of Leo’s patient Harvey, who believes he is a secret agent in the employ of the Royal Academy of Meteorology, using weather manipulation in battle against the sinister 49 Quantum Fathers. Galchen?s ingenious metaphorical play with meteorology, taken together with her conspiracy-based game playing, suggests a heavy influence from Thomas Pynchon. (“49″ Quantum Fathers indeed!) But whereas the trials of Oedipa Maas, however surreal, achieved an indisputable earthbound objectivity, the unreliable first-person narration by a plainly psychotic Dr. Leo lends a tone of deadpan fever dream to the whole of the narrative. Like Rima the Venezuelan Bird Girl in W. H. Hudson?s Green Mansions — an earlier Latina victim of “civilized” intervention — this Rema is also “killed” by a mind rendered disordered by the Anglo disease of too much thinking: Galchen?s ultimate villain.

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