I like a smart book. And I didn't care: not about the narrator or his wife or any of the other characters who populate this book. There's a line in the book when the narrator says that people critique Borges by saying that he's not emotional. I viewed this as a missed opportunity to make a case for the non-emotional, intellectual book that I was reading in the guise of talking about Borges (again, "so smart!
ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES was recommended to me since I am a fan of David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchonspecifically when I asked for similar work authored by women.
When I finished it, I realized it had succeeded in rousing no emotion in me whatsoever, and that made me think about it in a completely different way. Perhaps this was the point of it (one of them, anyway) -- to disengage from the manipulating forces of emotion in storytelling, and focus instead on the rational (or irrational) processing of information -- too spend so much time and energy using the intellectual, deducing capabilities of the brain and end up with results that are not straight-forward and exact, but hugely distorted.
I found myself getting very nervous when I realized I only had thirty pages left... I'd be happy to read lots more of her writing.
I could not emotionally connect to anyone or anything in it for a single second, so I'd repeatedly pick it up, read two pages, and set it back down, never having engaged.
these distortions when properly understood enable a more accurate understanding of the real world. Like the one she is using--the unreliable narrator. The problem with unreliable narrators is that there must be a truth worth discovering beyond the distortion. Pretty soon the distortion itself (which in the first 50 pages was at least somewhat interesting and funny) also loses its steam. It could have petered out 100 pages earlier and not much would have changed in terms of overall book-ness... There was no variation to the plot or characters, no turbulence whatsoever that would have even made things more interesting.
This is Rivka Galchen's first novel, and it's the most impressive first novel I've read in I don't know how long.
Leo Liebenstein believes his beloved wife has been replaced by a "simulacrum": an interesting concept, though nearly identical to that of The Echo Maker. That's not necessarily true for me, but I'll say this: when I'm reading a novel with an unreliable narrator who has paranoid hallucinations, I'd much rather see a little bit of a twist. If I've been pretty well convinced that the narrator is crazy, I'd like him to be vindicated at the end, at least in some small way. What I don't like is when it looks as if he's crazy the whole time, and then at the end, yep, he's crazy.
No, Galchen is not Pynchon and that is a wonderful thing: her insights into the surreal turns an alienated mind can take (and start finding normal)informed by psychiatry, introversion, modern living and the weather are gently funny.