Atmospheric Disturbances, a first novel by Rivka Galchen, is filled with fun and promise. Her narrator is a psychiatrist named Leo, who is certain that the woman who came home one day was not his wife but rather a perfect, or near perfect, simulacrum. It's a promising start for readers who enjoy the bizarre. Leo sets out in search of his true wife and of a patient who has also disappeared. The patient had seemed to have delusions about working for the Royal Academy of Meteorology on a secret project with military implications. A rival group known as the 49 is out to foil things. Have they kidnapped his wife?
As he proceeds on his quest, which takes him to Argentina, Leo consistently psychoanalyzes himself and others in an effort to remain convinced of his own sanity, and Galchen seems to have a firm grasp of the shop talk. But is he really mad, or are all the strange happenings not just in his mind? For much of the novel we tend to opt for the former explanation, but then things start to confirm his "delusions."
Of course I won't reveal the ending, but I will offer a reservation. The reader has some work to do to gain a clear picture of how this narrator's mind works and/or how his world turns. At times we wade so far into his brooding that we need hip boots, and we might wonder if it will be worth the effort. And yet, in its best moments, the novel insinuates itself into the tradition of the great writers of distorted realities such Franz Kafak and Thomas Pynchon, and in fact Galchen's 49 is probably an homage to Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.
If Atmospheric Disturbances sounds like your thing, you might also try The Testing of Luther Albright by MacKensie Bezos. Her protagonist is not as odd as Galchen's, but Luther also has a few screws that need tightening. This is a beautifully crafted psychological study in which everything in the external world correlates with cracks and stresses in Luther's mind. Is the dam he designed defective? Did he err when installing the plumbing in his house? For a controlling person like Luther Albright, these issues are symbolic of flaws in his relationships, or in his perceptions of them. Tension builds slowly, and the inner demons begin to emerge like cracks in a damn, or in the living room plaster.
Both of these are fine first novels.
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux; 1 edition (27 May 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374200114
- ISBN-13: 978-0374200114
- Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.3 x 21.6 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 363 g
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