16. Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen
While browsing the "New Books" shelf at my library, I picked up this book, which begins: "Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife." Intrigued, I stood and read the first couple of pages and thought, "I must read this". Sadly, I have to report that the book does not live up to its promise.
When the protagonist, New York psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein, arrives at this conclusion, he is also dealing with a patient, Harvey, who believes that he is receiving secret orders from the Royal Academy of Meteorology in controlling the world's weather. Leo's "false" wife, Rema, whom he refers to as "the simulacrum", suggests that he pretend to be an agent of the RAM as well, transmitting directions from a meteorologist named Tsvi Gal-Chen. The relationship between this therapeutic fraud and Leo's search for the real Rema are the crux of Galchen's book.
Now, am I right? Those plots, and their intertwining, ought to make for good reading. But Galchen's prose is so dense and convoluted that it was hard to get through the book, much less enjoy it. I don't mind that it's never clear whether Liebenstein is himself suffering from mental illness (some reviews firmly state that he is suffering from Capgras Syndrome, though Galchen is never definite) or whether Rema really has been replaced by a fake. Nor do I mind that it's unclear whether the RAM really is trying to stop a cabal of errant meteorologists. What I do mind is that Galchen never makes me care about the outcome or her characters, so at the end (which is very unsatisfying, by the way) I just felt as though my struggle to finish had been a waste of time.
The fact that Galchen uses her own surname, names a person called "Tsvi" in the acknowledgements, and, as one discovers with a bit of research, has used parts of her father's work and history in her book, could have given the novel extra depth, but in Galchen's hands seems merely self-indulgent.
Give it a miss.