marginalia || Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen

This run-down of my thoughts won’t be as detailed as all the other posts, because I wanted to love this book, but went away disappointed. Darn it. Anyhoo, this is what the back of the book says:

When Dr. Leo Liebenstein’s wife disappears, she leaves behind a single confounding clue: a woman who looks, talks, and behaves exactly like her. A simulatcrum. But Leo is not fooled, and he knows better than to trust his senses in matters of the heart. Certain that the real Rema is alive and in hiding, he embarks on a quixotic journey to reclaim her. With the help of his psychiatric patient Harvey–who believes himself to be a secret agent able to conrtol the weather–his investigation leads him from the streets of New York City to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia, in search of the woman he loves. Atmospheric Disturbances is a “witty, tender, and conceptually dazzling” (Booklist) novel about the mysterious nature of human relationships.

I wanted to love Rivka Galchen’s debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances. It has an intriguing premise–the novel begins with Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife: psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein just knows that his wife Rema isn’t his wife Rema, but an “impostor,” a “simulacrum,” an “ersatz wife.” It’s a beginning that gave me goosebumps, something told me this would be a great read. The language was wonderful, detailed, disarmingly skewed–the narrator has a way of looking at something so normal in a completely different way–and I suppose this applies not only to his desriptions, but to his worldview in general.

I recognized that it was a refreshingly original way of looking at the whole “My spouse is a different person now,” “My spouse isn’t the person I thought she would/should be” kind of thing. I get that. I was impressed by the whole metereological and psychoanalytical offshoots, I loved the cleverness, that skewedness I referred to above.

And I believed Leo. I believed that he didn’t feel that this ersatz wife wasn’t Rema. When I started to realize that Leo is one of the most unreliable narrator’s I’ve ever come across, I still went along. It was fun, for one thing–amazing, impressive, and the language just draws you in.

But I wanted the book to be more than a guessing game.

It never did become more than that. It’s as impressive as Paul Auster’s stylistic and technique-wielding meta-ish narratives–but, as Auster does, Galchen left me cold. I made it to page 150 before I threw my hands up and just skimmed the pages looking for helpful bits to help me unravel this sabog [can’t translate that, harhar] novel. Yeah, I gave up. Sorry. And I feel bad about this, because it began promising enough—–and I gleefully went along with it. But up to a certain point, well, bah. BAH, I tell you. Leo became whiny, delusional, psychotic, exasperating. And nothing at all is resolved. NOTHING. Grumble grumble.

I find it hard to talk about the wonderful things in this book because I’m just too overwhelmed by how exasperated I am–YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THE BEST BOOK EVER, OK?! Augh. I hate this. I could cry.

Atmospheric Disturbances is far too clever. And I thought you’d be such a kick-ass experience. If I were to go meta on your ass the way you did with me, you’re not what I thought you were. How do you like them apples? Grumble grumble grumble.

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12 comments

  1. Is it bad that I’m very relieved to know that you were disappointed in this? I too recognize it’s a praise-worthy novel. But it’s one that frustrates. It’s clever, yes, but not in a particularly good way.

    This is a thoughtful rant. As great as all your other posts!

    1. Thanks, Thom. So I suppose you’ve read this too, and was disappointed the same way I was? I hate it when that happens, haha. Thanks for dropping by! :]

  2. I don’t think I would enjoy this book but I did enjoy your post! So at least something good came out of the experience eh, eh?

    1. Hey, Ash–I was already planning how I’d tell everyone what a kick-ass book this was, but but but, Atmospheric Disturbances didn’t deliver. At least my rant did, haha.

  3. Isn’t if funny that when we are let down by a book, it’s almost like being let down by a friend. The idea of the book sounds great – it’s a pity it just wasn’t pulled off.

    1. Exactly! I was so disappointed. I was hooked, and I was loving it–and then I got more and more annoyed. Sigh.

  4. You know, the first review I read of this book was similarly underwhelming in its response to the book, but I brushed that off as possible differences in taste. But now you have also been less than impressed so now I think this is probably not worth my time. Oh well, plenty of other books on the shelves for me to read and buy!

    1. Like I said, it had a great premise, and many other great things–but I can’t get into them because I was too disappointed that it failed to be A Great Book. I hate it when that happens.

      Also, I decided to read this book by putting the recent additions to by TBR in the random number generator, haha.

  5. Man, the premise does sound so intriguing! Bummer that it doesn’t deliver…I have a pretty high tolerance for the overly clever, so maybe I wouldn’t mind…but on the other hand, as Steph says, there are so many other fish in the sea!

    1. …a pretty high tolerance for the overly clever… — I get what you mean. I dunno, it’s still an impressive book, but, well, it got exasperating for me. Who knows for you, right? :] If ever you want to pick this up [and that cover is lovely].

  6. selena · · Reply

    Exactly my thoughts! I had finished this one a few weeks ago but couldn’t bring myself to post a negative review.

    Bah! When her next book comes out, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she doesn’t do this.

    1. I felt bad, because I really wanted to like this book. As I said in my comment of your review–I’d still very much want to read her next book. :)

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