New York Psychologist Dr. Leo Liebenstein wakes from a nap one afternoon to discover his wife is missing. Scratch that—not missing: replaced. Replaced by a woman who, in spite of looking and sounding precisely like his wife, Rema, is decidedly someone else. On top of that, Harvey, a patient of Leo’s with delusions of controlling the weather, has also vanished. To unravel the mystery of the doppelgänger, find Harvey, and track down his real wife, Leo seeks out the connection between them all. The intrigue surrounding Leo, Rema, and her apparent simulacrum is the focus of Atmospheric Disturbances, the 2009 debut novel by Rivka Galchen.
If something about identical imposters, or awaking to metamorphoses sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone; Galchen’s writing has already been compared to a staggering list of literary greats: Kafka, Hamsun, Pynchon, and Borges to name a few. The accolades are well deserved, too, for the way Galchen blends realities and bends perceptions within her prose is truly masterful. Atmospheric Disturbances is more than the absurd mystery at its core, it is a haunting and heart-wrenching look at the fragility of the human mind, and the strange and powerful mutability of love. There is a touch of the Nabokovian in her fearless inclusion of the character, Tzvi Gal-Chen, a meteorological scientist named for Galchen’s father, himself a meteorologist.
For Book Culture patrons, there is a hometown connection, so to speak, to be had as well. Glachen, who earned her MFA at Columbia and currently serves as an adjunct professor there, draws upon Morningside Heights for some atmosphere of her own. Much of Atmospheric Disturbances takes place just steps from Book Culture’s door, including favorite neighborhood haunts like the Hungarian Pastry Shop, or masters-of-the-monster-slice, Koronet Pizza. While such strict and noticeable adherence to reality could easily stifle the prose or break the reader’s suspension of disbelief with the slightest deviation from fact, there is a delicacy in Galchen’s prose that just works. The neighborhood details included by Galchen are a delightful treat for the local reader, like seeing yourself in the background of a newscast when your hair looks particularly great.
Rivka Galchen’s latest book, a short story collection titled American Innovations, was just released last month to glowing reviews. Personally, I’m looking forward to it so much I actually dreamed that I got a whole box of early-released paperbacks all to myself. This is honestly what I dream about–and once you read her work, you’ll understand why.