Monday, December 22, 2008

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

I can’t decide if I really liked this book or not. I liked how clever it was; I am a sucker for cleverness. I didn’t like how it went on and on and on sometimes.

This book is about Leo, a psychotherapist who loses his grip on reality. At first he thinks his wife has been replaced by a “simulacrum.” Then he thinks he is part of a vast conspiracy of people who can control the weather. He believes his contact is a fellow from the Royal Academy of Meteorology, Dr. Tsvi Gal-Chen, an actual meteorologist who happens to be the author (Rivka Galchen’s) father. That Dr. Gal-Chen is already dead doesn’t conflict with Leo’s increasingly tenuous grasp. Leo also gets involved (in his head, anyway) with another weather-controlling group, the 49 Fathers. These guys try to use the weather in more nefarious ways and Leo believes he is being called to work with the Royal Academy against the Fathers to prevent massive weather-induced chaos.

Okay, so all this is original and at times very funny. But Leo is a nut job, and he spends a lot of time thinking really disconnected obsessive thoughts about weird things, and I just got tired of reading them. I skimmed a lot of this book, especially the parts where Leo is fixating on whether or not the simulacrum smells like his wife. I also identified with his wife’s increasing frustration with him, as she tries to discover what’s happening to him, then tries to find him when he disappears on a weather-controlling mission. Should I be more sympathetic, more politically correct about what might be a very accurate picture of a man descending into mental illness? Probably, but I just didn’t have the patience.

Some critics have identified a relationship between this book and Thomas Pynchon’s book The Crying of Lot 49, which is also about crazy conspiracy theories. Since I couldn’t even read one page of that book I can’t tell you whether such a connection exists. Apparently the 49 Fathers are some reference to the Pynchon book, among other things. If you are focused enough to have read The Crying of Lot 49 you might really like Atmospheric Disturbances. And it’s worth trying, even if, like me, you run away screaming from anything by Pynchon.

(Book 46, 2008)


Anonymous said...

Oh I agree about Pynchon. We had to read The Crying of Lot 49 when I took an American lit module. It didn't mean a lot to me. Possibly a book that appeals more to the male than the female reader?

Post a Comment