Atmospheric Disturbances

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Overview

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.

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Atmospheric Disturbances

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Overview

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.

Atmospheric Disturbances is at once a moving love story, a dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a deeply disturbing portrait of a fracturing mind. With tremendous compassion and dazzling literary sophistication, Rivka Galchen investigates the moment of crisis when you suddenly realize that the reality you insist upon is no longer one you can accept, and the person you love has become merely the person you live with. This highly inventive debutexplores 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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Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
Galchen's inventive narrative strategies call to mind the playful techniques of Jonathan Lethem, Franz Kafka, Primo Levi and Thomas Pynchon. But she also, quite deliberately, echoes the Argentine giant Jorge Luis Borges…You don't have to be a weatherman to see that Galchen's brainteasing book, whatever its pretexts, is an exploration of the mutability of romantic love. Although she has intellectualized and mystified her subject, intentionally obscuring it in a dry-ice fog of pseudoscience, the emotional peaks beneath her cloud retain their definition…Anyone who has suffered the everyday calamity of the lessening of love, the infinitesimal diminutions of regard that drain a relationship of its power, knows what a relief it would be to blame science fiction. This cerebral, demanding, original new writer helps make the charges stick.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Rod Serling, strolling through a gallery of distorted portraits, should introduce Rivka Galchen's first novel. Atmospheric Disturbances takes place in the twilight zone of Leo Liebenstein's highly rational but utterly deluded mind. He's a middle-aged psychiatrist confounded by a strange problem: "A woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife," he tells us on the opening page. "Same everything, but it wasn't Rema." This "impostress" or "simulacrum," as he refers to her throughout the novel, looks exactly like his young wife, imitates her Argentine accent perfectly and possesses all her memories and attitudes. But he knows she isn't Rema…This sounds weird, of course, and it is—deliciously so—but on another level, it's common: After all, lots of people eventually conclude that their spouse isn't the person they once married…What Galchen has done is play out that sad realization in the mind of a psychotic psychiatrist, a man thoroughly versed in others' delusions but unable to perceive his own.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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 49nostalgia hit. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Entertainment Weekly
Achingly beautiful.
The Wall Street Journal
. . . Hailed as a graceful handshake between science and literature . . .
Time
. . . a dense, fractally complex first novel by the conspicuously talented Rivka Galchen.
The Economist
The story is genuinely suspenseful, and Leo's clause-heavy patter feels fresh and wry-his perspective curiously weird-even as he unravels. Ms Galchen is a writer to be watched.
Library Journal

To Dr. Leo Liebenstein, a New York psychiatrist, it's the puppy that gives it away. His much younger "real" wife, Rema, does not like dogs, so this woman who looks like Rema and smells like Rema and has brought him the puppy must be a simulacrum. Leo tells the faux Rema that he's on to her and wants his real wife back. Leo also believes that his missing patient, Harvey, is tied to the mystery. And what of the Royal Academy of Meteorology (RAM), which Harvey says has employed him as a secret agent? The real Rema convinced Leo to impersonate RAM staff member Tzvi Gal-Chen in his therapy work with Harvey, and now Leo is calling Gal-Chen on his Blackberry from across the ocean. But could Leo be talking to a dead man? Galchen's astonishing debut is rich in detail and scientific exploration and a kind of dreamy psychological dissembling that keeps the reader as baffled as Leo right to the end. This dense, brilliant novel should be much in demand, especially for book groups eager for the challenge of dissecting and reconstructing the clues in a search for the solution. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/1/08.]
—Beth E. Andersen

Kirkus Reviews
Everything is other than it appears to be in Galchen's assured debut-an intricate puzzle powered by an urgently beating heart. That organ and the brain sustained by it are the property of Galchen's narrator, New York psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein-who immediately informs us that his South American-born wife Rema has disappeared and been replaced by a "simulacrum" only superficially similar to the woman he loves. Leo's paranoid suspicions seem no more bizarre than the claims of another missing person: his delusional patient Harvey, who insists he is "employed as a secret agent for the Royal Academy of Meteorology," assigned to control the weather and to foil the nefarious 49 Quantum Fathers, whose experiments threaten the climate's very survival. What's really going on in Leo's crowded mind is hinted at in several allusions to T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" and in a pattern of metaphors that link the relative predictability of human behavior with Doppler radar, triangulation and similar up-to-the-minute climatological measuring and verification techniques. With immense subtlety, Galchen assembles a deeply moving picture of a lover plaintively seeking permanence in a context of inexorable relativity, instability and change. And, in provocative glancing reference to "the disappeared" victims of Argentina's 1970s "Dirty War," there is perhaps a buried allusion to Rima the bird girl, the lost loved one of W.H. Hudson's romantic classic Green Mansions. A superb first novel. Agent: Bill Clegg/William Morris Agency
From the Publisher
"A relentless exploration of how a man could fail to see clearly the woman he loves . . . [A novel] that knows how to move from the comic to the painful . . . Galchen has a knack for taking a thread and fraying it, so that a sentence never quite ends up where you expect."—James Wood, The New Yorker

"At once mournful and playful . . . [a] droll, exquisite first novel."—Laura Miller, Salon.com

"There are passages so achingly beautiful in Galchen's strange puzzle of a book—about love, resilience, and perception."—Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly (Grade A)

"A dense, fractally complex first novel by the conspicuously talented Rivka Galchen."—Lev Grossman, Time

"Galchen's dark and comical mystery is a clever take on the ways love, longing and overanalysis can drive you absolutely nuts."—Marie Claire

"Genuinely suspenseful . . . Ms. Galchen is a writer to be watched."—The Economist

The Barnes & Noble Review
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. --Paul DiFilippo
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374200114
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/27/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

RIVKA GALCHEN recieved her MD from the Mount Sinai Shool of Medicine, having spent a year in South America working on public health issues. Galchen recently completed her MFA at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham Fellow. Her essay on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics was published in The Believer, and she is the recipient of a 2006 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award. Galchen lives in New York City. This is her first novel.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the novel's epigraphs. Does your own experience with love and friendship match the observations of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze? What is the effect of reading a quote from the "real" Tzvi Gal-Chen, followed by scenes of a fictional character who bears his name? How do Gal-Chen's thoughts on prediction and knowledge predict various outcomes in the novel? 2. How much did you trust Leo as a narrator? What did you initially think the novel's mysteries were? How did you interpret the various clues provided by the characters? 3. What symptoms does Harvey have in common with his healers? How did Rema's scheme, coaching Leo through his impersonation, affect the mental health of the other characters? 4. What makes meteorology an ideal metaphor for love and marriage? 5. On page 14, Leo describes the limits of reality testing for some patients. How do the novel's characters distinguish between reality and illusion? How do most of us test reality-in love, at work, in politics? 6. In what ways does Leo's "Dopplerganger effect" (emphasized in Chapters 8 and 9) prove to be both true and absurd? 7. Consider Rema's puppy. What role does it play in propelling the storyline? 8. How does the situation change when Leo meets Magda? What effect do she and Anatole have on Rema? Ultimately, does anyone know Rema better than she knows herself? 9. On page 157, Leo describes the significance of the interpretive leap. How did you interpret the sign at the bottom of the page? How do the novel's characters balance their interpretive leaps with empirical laws? 10. In what way do the desaparecidos, the vanished victims of Argentina's "dirty war," form a meaningful part of Leo's travels in South America? 11. What shifts occur when the setting changes to Buenos Aires? What keeps Leo oriented in both New York and Argentina? 12. How was your reading affected by the photographs that appear on pages 26 and 147? Can photography capture fiction? 13. What criteria would your family and friends use if they were trying to determine whether you were the real You or an impostor? 14. Rivka Galchen weaves many philosophical references into the novel, ranging from the term "simulacra" itself to critical theorists of the Frankfurt School (such as Theodor Adorno) to poststructuralist theory (such as Jacques Lacan's mirror stage). Yet she was also hailed by the novelist Francisco Goldman for producing a novel that is "as funny as any episode of The Simpsons." What techniques enable her to achieve such a broad range of tones? Is this novel a spoof? A tragedy? A realistic account of a fracturing mind? A fable? How does the genre affect your reading of the story? 15. Chapter 22 is written almost entirely in the future tense. How does this affect your reading of the closing scenes? What do you predict for the characters' futures?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2008

    Excellent

    An excellent, brain-teasing, quirky novel. Very innventive diiferent than anything I have read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

    Tiring, rru Tiring, ruminitive

    The narrator thinks his wife has been replaced with a simulacrum. How you might ask? Is he ill? Deluded? In a parellel world? These questions are never answered. Instead. he ruminates endlessly about these topics and others. Not recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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