Atmospheric Disturbances: Making Sweet Love To My Cerebral Cortex

First things first, in the name of writing a really professional review here, I have to say that I want to make sexy sexy love to Rivka Galchen's brain.

Who are you, Rivka? Where have you been all my life? One minute, you were nothing but a name on 'that jacket-less book with the weird scribbles'. Then I decided, having taken out Atmospheric Disturbances on a whim on a seven day loan, that I had to read it. And your wry, surgical wit, your fast and loose play with language, your decision to not fuck around and have a real plot with real characters, the fact that you inserted that bizarre family photo that I had to go back to and stare at again and again, all of these factors and more, they led me to believe that we are brain soul mates and we need to go and play silent intellectual chess while staring into each others eyes,

Do not deny me, Rivka! I've passed most of my last 10 psychological tests!

[WTF is this book about, you ask? It's about a psychologist, Dr. Leo Liebenstein, who comes home to discover that his wife, Rema, has been replaced by a very exact copy. He goes in search of her, landing as far as Buenos Aires and Patagonia. It's possible that his schizophrenic patient, Harvey, who believes that he can control the weather and works for the Royal Academy of Meteorology, is involved or perhaps it's the Academy themselves and their mysterious fellow, Dr. Tzvi Gal-Chen. But can Dr. Liebenstein's point of view be trusted?]

In tribute to this book, here are a list of words that caused my neurons to begin burning with erotic intellectual pleasure. (Run Rivka, run as fast as you can while you can!)
  1. Simulacrum: this is how Leo often refers to the Rema-copy. It's a noun and the definition is a slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance. What a lovely word! It reminds me of a brittle seashell or a very nasty cheat done by someone beating another at a calculus problem.
  2. This whole sentence on page 228: "A woman bit from her popsicle. A chunklet fell to the ground; the oversized dog snarfed it." The first sentence is only there for context, the genius is in the second. It's the juxtaposition of the words chunklet and snarfed. They sit opposite the semi-colon like regal dogs guarding a temple of underused words. The more I stare at this sentence, the closer to God I feel.
  3. Axiomatic: this is the bitchiest word I have ever heard. It means pertaining to or of the nature of an axiom; self-evident; obvious. If you use the word axiomatic, you are basically giving someone the finger in your mind.
  4. Triangulation: a technique for establishing the distance between any two points, or the relative position of two or more points, by using such points as vertices of a triangle or series of triangles. Leo desperately tries to create patterns in the chaos of his life. Unfortunately, even for us sane folks, meaning's failure to reveal itself is the only constant aside from death.
  5. Newsprinty: Rivka, my mind lover, tends to make nouns into adjectives using -y quite a bit but in this case it actually works. The word is used as "thin newsprinty pages." Do you know when your fingers get all mussed with talcy ink and you fumble through them, fingering the corners? That act is very newsprinty.
  6. When Rivka defines negative space: On page 151, "We were left in the dark, amidst all that velvet, and unaware of the location of the dog." Dogs figure high into Leo's paranoia and it's his constant attention to their (non) presence that made me realize that what really disturbs him is the lack that he experiences in his life.
This is a brilliant book, so many younger writers strive to walk the line between form and invention and Ms. Galchen does it so well. I wish I could give Atmospheric Disturbances its proper due but I suppose that is what proper reviewers are for. In any case, I leave you with this:

"...maybe society should more seriously consider the coping mechanism of not talking about loss, at least not publicly; a highly superior coping mechanism, I would argue, is to cathart over the sufferings of fictional creations."

Atmospheric Disturbances/ Rivka Galchen / HarperCollins Canada / Trade Paperback, 2009

Further Discussion (email me with a link to your review!)
Review at the Keepin' It Real Book Club


Cheese said...

1) I was also drawn back to that bizarre family photo again and again.

2) Agreed. As soon as I read 'simulacrum' I was swooning. Popularizing Beaudrillard - mmmmm.

3) "It's the juxtaposition of the words chunklet and snarfed. They sit opposite the semi-colon like regal dogs guarding a temple of underused words. The more I stare at this sentence, the closer to God I feel." Yesssssssssss.

Lisa said...

Don't forget anagnorisis, which showed up somewhere in the last 10 pages of the book... which word, freakishly, I had seen exactly once before in my life in an Atlantic Daily Dish blog post -- THE SAME DAY. It was a perfectly apropos coincidence.

I really liked the book. Not exactly sure why, as experimental/pomo stuff isn't usually my thing, but this totally appealed to me. It's this month's Reading Club discussion over at Bookballoon, and I think I'm its one and only fan. So now I don't feel so lonely...

saleema said...

I loved this book, too! I rarely buy books for people (because I think it seems, for some people, like homework or something), but I've already given this as a gift once, and I probably will again.

I met Rivka at the Writers Trust Awards last year, and she was so cool and nice-seeming that I'm kind of relieved I hadn't read the book yet at that point as I probably would have scared her with my intense enthusiasm.

B.Kienapple said...

Anagnorisis: the critical moment of recognition or discovery. Hm, that is a freakish coincidence. I'm not sure how I feel about this word, when I look at it I see 'agnostic' or 'antagonistic'. I'm much more of a fan of another word you use, 'apropos'. I think that is such a great little word; it's almost cheeky in sound and use. Anyway Lisa, we're going to have to charge you with defending the book's honour over at Bookballoon!

And Saleema, at least as a fellow writer your enthusiasm would be seen as complimentary, but for the rest of us slavering fans, a respectful distance must be maintained.


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