I’m a sucker for books with odd titles. Hence, when I came across Rivka Galchen’s debut novel, “Atmospheric Disturbances,” I was tickled, to say the least.
And the story is intriguing. A psychiatrist believes his wife has disappeared and a “false” wife has replaced her, a woman who walks, talks, smiles — even brushes her teeth — just like her. Well, almost. Dr. Liebenstein believes the woman’s imitation is almost perfect, but off just slightly, just enough that he knows the real Rema is somewhere else and he has to find her.
The story might sound ludicrous at first, but Galchen’s writing is so masterful, so compelling, that I was drawn into the bizarre twilight zone of his mind as he searches for her, reaching at the most abstract connections, reminding me of the days we looked for clues on the cover of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album that Paul McCartney was truly dead.
Teetering on science fiction, Galchen cleverly weaves in meteorological research and psychiatric studies to aid Dr. Liebenstein in his quest; was this all a tongue-in-cheek ruse or a serious and real (well, it is fiction) story? I found myself torn between deeply concentrating on the minute details of the doctor’s findings and laughing at the absurdity of it all. I was amazed at his perseverance as he travels from their apartment in New York City to Argentina, where his Rema was born and her mother still lives, though he’s never met her. I was amused as he muddles through one mysterious lead after another, thinking he’s almost unlocked the secret and he needs to hang on just a little longer, yet other times, I thought he was simply crazy.
Who, though, hasn’t looked at a spouse, a parent, a child behaving out of character and thought, “Who are you, and what have you done with my … ?” I can’t say I loved the book, but I also couldn’t stop reading it. Like an antibiotic, I knew that after finishing it, I would be better for it. “Atmospheric Disturbances” had me re-evaluating my own relationships, questioning what was real, what really mattered, and was that really my husband with a vacuum?
Jami Carpenter is a freelance editor for Stephens Press, former host of Vegas PBS Book Club talk show and co-author of “Education in the Neon Shadow.”