Over the weekend, I finished “Atmospheric Disturbances” a first novel by Rivka Galchen, one of the selections on this year’s American Library Association Notable Books List. This one typifies many Notable Books fiction choices. Unusual characters. Fabulous prose. Unlikely plot. Suspension of disbelief. Lack of a tidy ending.
Leo narrates this contemporary story, describing how his work as a psychoanalyst leads to all kinds of confusion, bewilderment, and uncertainy, beginning with an unorthodox treatment of a patient. Leo believes that the woman who says she is his wife is a doppelganger, a fake. He is surprised to hear from the Royal Academy of Meteorology, which was part of his patient’s treatment. He ends up in Argentina with his mother-in-law and runs into his patient there. At every turn, Leo’s confusion leads him to behave dishonestly, and increasingly he seems out of touch with the world, and certainly with the people around him.
This first part of this book drew me in. Given the nature of the story I wasn’t surprised that the author didn’t tie it up in the end. I feel like I missed something critical in the reading because I wasn’t figuring out was was happening. But I appreciate being challenged to read books that don’t fit a typical mold. I’m pretty sure it’s good for me. And there were times when I re-read sections because the writing was so good.
On a book like this where I feel myself as a reader not up to the author’s challenge, I often take a look at the Amazon.com reviews to see how other readers reacted. In this case, the stars are all over the place–plenty of one or two stars, but also plenty of five stars. I’m trying to think of a better name for the category of Unusual and Challenging Fiction. They often show this range of reaction.
There are probably only a few people to whom I’d recommend this. They are my reading friends who prefer a plot that sets its own course, with characters who can’t be predicted, and where the progress of the book isn’t necessarily a progress toward resolution, but an exploration of an imaginative situation.