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Atmospheric Disturbances

3.17  ·  Rating details ·  3,762 ratings  ·  728 reviews
Atmospheric Disturbances is at once a moving love story, a dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a deeply disturbing portrait of a fracturing mind.

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 everyo
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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Average rating 3.17  · 
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Jul 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Lynn by: New Yorker, New York Times
Shelves: read-in-2008
This book has been widely reviewed, and I understand why. It's basic premise is unique, and the writing is sometimes stunning. As a first novel, I'd say it's fairly accomplished. The problem is I didn't really like it. The whole book kept me at an arm's length, as if I were reading an extended logic problem. At time's the writing was interesting, but at other times it seemed way too aware of its own cleverness (One line that sticks in my mind is "she centimetered toward me" or something like tha ...more
Michael Ferro
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES was recommended to me since I am a fan of David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon—specifically when I asked for similar work authored by women. That said, let me say this: this book was simply incredible. Much like Wallace, there is an intensely personal narrative centered around mental health that hearkens to INFINITE JEST, as well as THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM. Much like Pynchon, there is absurd humor centering around a bizarre mystery that slowly unveils it ...more
Jul 06, 2008 rated it liked it
I was initially quite taken with this book. It is coolly intellectual, mysterious, unique, and filled with fun vocabulary words and complex sentence structure. Then about halfway through, I found myself getting bored. It was a little too esoteric and scientific, too detached, and headed absolutely nowhere. When I finished it, I realized it had succeeded in rousing no emotion in me whatsoever, and that made me think about it in a completely different way. Perhaps this was the point of it (one of ...more
Jun 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Oriana by: The L Magazine
Gosh, well wow. I liked this book quite a lot. It is certainly original and cool. Also a really great blend of beautiful language, surprising insight, wonderfully strange characters, and fascinating factualness. It reads very quickly, really propelling you forward, in a sort of frenzied rush to the point when all the secrets will be revealed. I found myself getting very nervous when I realized I only had thirty pages left... then twenty... then five... I knew there wasn't nearly enough wordspace ...more
Jul 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: female, year-2000s, novel
[On the doppler effect...] Being aware of this distortion of perception allows scientists to take advantage of the distortion itself in order to gather accurate data about the actual, and not just the perceived, world. ... these distortions [when] properly understood enable a more accurate understanding of the real world. p 45
Obviously Galchen is not only referring to the doppler effect here, but also to other types of distorting effects. Like the one she is using--the unreliable narrator.

The pr
Anna Savage
Jan 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
It took me nearly a year to finish this book, which I should have been able to read in two hours. I could not emotionally connect to anyone or anything in it for a single second, so I'd repeatedly pick it up, read two pages, and set it back down, never having engaged. Everything about this book, from the misuse of scientific catchphrases for quirk to the untrustworthy narrator to the smug, look-how-creative-I-am tone each sentence was soaked in, made me want nothing to do with it or anything els ...more
Mar 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This book was really bizarre but I ended up liking it. I would have liked a bit more of an explanation of things.
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'd had this sitting on my shelf for a good six months before finally deciding to read it. And...what a disappointment it was. Leo Liebenstein believes his beloved wife has been replaced by a "simulacrum": an interesting concept, though nearly identical to that of The Echo Maker. The difference is that the narrator of The Echo Maker is a firm subscriber to a "consensus view of reality," while Galchen's narrator is Leo himself, making it somewhat uncertain whether his delusions are precisely that ...more
M. Hornbuckle
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
This is Rivka Galchen's first novel, and it's the most impressive first novel I've read in I don't know how long. In a way, it's a novel about weather, but really it's about perceptions of reality. She's exploring some of the same themes that I'm currently writing about and doing it so well, it makes me question my own work, but it also reinforces the idea that these themes are floating around in the zeitgeist, and perhaps they are even important.

Anyway, this is a great fucking book, and Rivka G
Jun 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving in to the temptation to share thoughts about a book before I've finished it, which I sometimes regret because what if it starts out strong and intriguing, but then turns out badly, like _Jurassic Park?_ I am going to take that risk with this book, to which I wish I could give 10 stars.

I mostly want to respond to some pans of this book- comments like "She's no Pynchon" and accusations of flat and unlikeable characters and a meandering plot. No, Galchen is not Pynchon and that is a wond
Jun 24, 2008 rated it liked it
You know sometimes you encounter a book, movie, etc. and you can't tell if the artifact was self-consciously arty or if you just weren't attentive enough to "get" the artifact? Well, this evening I finished Atmospheric Disturbances. I thought the novel was strong but perhaps too obtuse to enjoy. Galchen's short, clipped sentences were kind of cool. The Borges and Murakami influences were obvious, not in a bad way, but I felt like I was working too hard as the reader to piece together the literar ...more
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own, sulzer-library
Me, halfway into the book: “I don’t want to jinx anything, but I don’t think this book has made one false move yet.”

On the very first page, Dr. Leo Liebenstein, a psychiatrist in New York, tells us that last December, a woman who looked almost exactly like his wife, Rema, entered the apartment, as if she was actually his wife, Rema. She looks like Rema, dresses like Rema, has Rema’s purse and sounds a lot like her (her hair even has the same grassy smell from her shampoo), but it’s definitely no
Jun 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
Rivka Galchen knows how to well and she writes well. I'll start with that. Be positive! I'd even agree with the flap copy by an unpaid editorial assistant that this book has many moments that are moving, sophisticated, an compassionate. No small accomplishment.

The problem is, do we really need another book about an extremely rare form of brain damage? Are you sure? In this case, the form of agnosia is Capgras, in which you recognize the people you know, but believe they've been replaced by impo
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
Atmospheric Disturbances is the story of Leo, a psychiatrist who comes home one day to find that the woman in his home--though she looks almost exactly like his wife--is not in fact his wife. This sets him off on a search for his real wife that takes him to Buenos Aires (her birthplace) and then down to Patagonia. Along the way, he is influenced by a metereologist, Tzvi Gal-Chen (who, odd though it may be, I can only assume to be the author's father, given various things revealed during the book ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Atmospheric Disturbances is great, and very, very clever. I was really impressed by Rivka Galchen's debut novel. In its erudition, wordplay, humor, and unreliable narrator, it reminded me of Lolita. Atmospheric Disturbance's Leo Liebenstein, much like Humbert Humbert, manages to be captivating, even while you're shaking your head at him. With its references to academia, psychiatry, meteorology, and literature (i.e. specialized topics), this novel reminded me of Special Topics in Calamity Physics ...more
Nov 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
This is a very strange book.

Some reviewers have likened Galchen to Murakami, but although both writers paint surreal landscapes with words, Murakami's landscapes are masterpieces along the lines of Salvadore Dali, Galchen is more like Gregoire Michonze.

Galchen's main character is a psychiatrist who one day looks at his wife and convinces himself that she is an imposter. Her "disappearance" inexplicably coincides with the disappearance of one of his patients. While "searching" for his "real wife
James Murphy
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
I didn't care for it. There's not much story. That fact is acceptable in itself. We read many things in which there's little narrative direction. Lacking much story is alright if a novel or memoir or nonfiction chronicle is written in an energetic, absorbing style in which the primary interest is the language or the stylistic elements themselves. That's not true of Atmospheric Disturbances, so it's less interesting than it should be, or at least as I'd expected and think it could be. Most of the ...more
Dec 07, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Did I read this book? Did someone else read it for me? Did I feel like I was reading this book but someone else was reading it for me? Did someone else read the book and I felt like I was reading it? WTF! What is up with this book?!! There was a certain charm and novelty to the original conceit of this book which, I suppose the author put together from her Psychiatry rotation and listening to her meteorologist father talking shop. However, all the good things about that idea disappear at about p ...more
Robert Blumenthal
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a really hard book to review. I'm not sure I totally got it, and I admit I found some of the quirkiness to be somewhat annoying at times. And not getting a book does not necessarily detract from my enjoyment (Kafka on the Shore by Murakami is a prime example). I sensed at the end that it was essentially that the narrator was mentally ill and suffering from marital discord.

Leo Liebenstein, a psychologist living in New York, believes that Rema, his beautiful, much younger Argent
Elevate Difference
Jul 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In some cases, you may be midway through a story, novel, or film before realizing you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator. He or she is biased, withholding information, or mentally unstable. (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s disturbing story “The Yellow Wallpaper” springs to mind as just one example.) In Atmospheric Disturbances, the debut novel by Rivka Galchen, it is apparent early on that the main character, psychiatrist Dr. Leo Liebenstein, is off his rocker. Perhaps that’s putting it too stron ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Atmospheric Disturbances is adorably intriguing; it belongs to a tradition of the literary fantastic on the upper ranks of which we find Bruno Schulz, Leo Pertuz, Alexander Lernet-Holenia, some Nabokov, and of course, Kafka.

"Authenticity" is a concept that has haunted and tortured Jewish intellectuals (almost literally, in its political anti-Semitic and Nazi guise) for a couple of centuries. Galchen's tale of a man who is convinced his wife has been replaced by an identical changeling, an impos
I was already aware of the need to overcome the confines of my lonely point of view....How to make deductions from my restricted knowledge.... Was it me or the object doing the moving? p50

Leo is not satisfied with reality.
Specifically,he is certain that his beautiful young wife has been kidnapped by renegade meteorologists, and that the woman claiming to be her, despite her uncanny resemblance and intimate personal knowledge, is a simulacrum.

Don't be taken in by the leaden beginning or waste tim
Jul 02, 2008 rated it liked it
I really admire this book.

I interpreted it as the telling of what happens when somebody you love changes. The narrator, rather than acknowledging that his wife had simply changed as a person, becomes convinced that she is NOT his wife. He runs away to Argentina, her country of origin, to find out the truth about her.

It's a heart-breaking story, really. Some of us (ahem) have a hard time adjusting when others change, and it can honestly drive you to the brink of insanity.

On some levels I think th
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
An odd, interesting tale about an individual (narrator) in the midst of a downward spiral of some form of mental illness or condition told from his perspective (in other words, it's obvious to the reader but not the narrator). I really wanted to like this book more, but the meteorological jargon, although detailed, was a bit dull and confusing and the lack of resolution throughout was frustrating. It felt like a very personal novel for the author (character/author name similarities aside). ...more
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, latin-america
This was a random selection from the library shelves & I hit a winner. The cool, clinical tone was perfect for the story of mental derailment from reality. The story brought up some provoking thoughts about reality (what it is vs. what we perceive), how we rationalize things, how we engage or detach from the world around us, how we cope. I'd recommend it to some, but I realize it is not a book that will appeal to others. ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Apr 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2008
The book is about psychiatrist Dr Leo Liebenstein’s quest to find his wife Rema who one day is replaced by an almost but not quite convincing simulacrum.

This occurs shortly after one of his patients Harvey goes missing. Harvey is convinced he receives coded messages from a secret part of the Royal Academy of Meteorology which controls the weather. Rema had convinced Leo against his judgment and professional ethics to play along with Harvey pretending to be a more senior agent with Rema playing
Aug 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
I liked this quite a bit. I'm usually not all that hot for experimental or postmodern fiction, and I'm not even sure if this falls into either of those categories -- for all its conceptual noodling, the book was still a pretty straight-ahead narrative. Not the most warm fuzzy story I've ever read, but really kind of sympathetic in spite of itself. All the eclectic erudite stuff I found fun, and there was definitely some thoughtful stuff about the nature of reality, identity, coincidence, etc. to ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it liked it
The first sentence of this novel is awesome: "Last December, a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife." The rest of the story deals with this predicament; the clearly delusional protagonist spends the entire novel (which, in my opinion, is about 75 pages too long) rationalizing and deliberating. The main character, Leo, is a psychiatrist who is constantly analyzing others, and he frequently dismisses these analyses when they apply to him.

This, in a way, is the author’s craft
Laura Rittenhouse
Jun 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wanted to give this book a 3.5 but gave Rivka the extra half point because she wrote a rather complex story and I'm sure that wasn't easy. The book is told in the first person by Leo, a psychologist. His world shifts dramatically (in his mind anyway) when his wife, who is at best apathetic towards dogs, comes home with a puppy. He is immediately convinced that this imposter is the double of his wife and finds reinforcing evidence in things like lines on her face proving that the doppleganger i ...more
An ambitious project from a young novelist who felt like she could channel the weird properly, and take on the ghosts of Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Saramago, Philip K. Dick, and above all else The Crying of Lot 49, lace it with references to Lacan and Freud, and call it a day. Do I applaud this ambition? Oh god, yes, and it's such a breath of fresh air in an American literary landscape that is as flat and dull and stultifying as Kansas on an August day. Does she pull it off... well, that's a different ...more
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Rivka Galchen (born 1976) is a Canadian-American writer and physician. Her first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, was published in 2008. She currently is an adjunct professor in the writing division of Columbia University's School of Art. In 2010, she was chosen as one of the 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker. ...more

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