Rivka Galchen’s debut novel, Atmospheric Distrubances, purports to be some sort of cosmically grand mystery, touching on love and relationships and change, with some meteorology thrown in to satisfy the quirk needs of the “modern novel”. In actuality the novel is just a tedious experiment in the art of the unreliable narrator, an experiment which provides very little joy to be had on the part of the reader.
Dr. Leo Lieberstein is a psychiatrist who is convinced that his Argentine wife Rema has been replaced by what he calls a “simulacrum”. Through a series of painfully ridiculous machinations, Leo winds up searching for the “real” Rema in Argentina, with the help of one of his patients, a man named Harvey who thinks that he can alter the weather.
Through Harvey, Leo begins to believe that the Royal Academy of Meteorology is in constant battle with a group of evil weather-changers named The 49 Quantum Fathers. In another too precious little quirk, the Royal Academy is an actual institution, and its leader, both in real-life and in the book, was once Dr. Tzvi Gal-chen, who, as you’ll realize if you hyphenate the author’s name, is Rivka Galchen’s deceased father.
Much of the novel consists of Leo’s incredibly tenuous applications of the science of meteorology to his relationship of Rema. These discourses may appeal to stoned Philosophy majors, but readers looking for compelling characters and a coherent plot had best look elsewhere. By the end, I was struggling just to turn the page.