Sasha Martinez's Reviews > Atmospheric Disturbances

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
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's review
Sep 30, 11

bookshelves: 2010

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.

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