ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES by Rivka Galchen (HarperCollins), 240 pages, $24 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
Novels like Atmospheric Disturbances don't come around very often. It's a book of ideas, yet it's full of emotion. It's got romance, science, mystery, speculation. The narrative is elliptical, but it's got a very precise logic.
New York psychotherapist Leo thinks his wife, Rema, has been replaced by a doppelgänger. He's totally convinced of it, despite the protestations of the person who may (or may not) be Rema's stand-in - so much so that, on the strength of a clue he thinks the real Rema has left him, he goes all the way to Argentina to find her.
In the meantime, one of his patients has disappeared, ostensibly to find the perpetrators of a conspiracy related to changing weather patterns. Leo's been egging him on, pretending to be a scientist at the Royal Academy of Meteorology.
A few pages in, you realize you're in for a mind-bending ride. What's real? Who's who? Can we believe anything?
What sounds like a puzzling - and difficult - read is actually wholly absorbing thanks to Leo's hilarious ruminations during his questionable quest on the merits and demerits of psychiatry and the meaning of love and identity.
Playful (Galchen names one of her characters after her father, himself a meteorologist), disturbing and often heartbreaking, Atmospheric Disturbances is a sign that American culture hasn't been totally dumbed down yet.