Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Read: Atmospheric disturbances, Everyman

I highly recommend Rivka Galchen's novel Atmospheric Disturbances; it falls off near the end as the plot veers into implausibility but the first two-thirds of it is quite compelling. (Hm. Independently, it turns out the Economist also liked the first two-thirds...) It's also beautifully written. The story is about a therapist -- the narrator -- who is convinced that his wife has been replaced by an exact replica of herself; he soon ends up in Argentina exchanging emails with a dead meteorologist and signing up to do a poorly-defined mission for a nonexistent agency in Patagonia. The basic charm of the thing is that it's a horribly sad book but the narrator usually doesn't register the sadnesses -- he's interested mostly in the detective-story end of things, trying to find out where his real wife went, etc. -- and the fact that it's so deadpan saves it from sentimentality and whininess.

I'm ambivalent about Roth's Everyman. It has much of the tediousness of American Pastoral but little of the energy; the writing is limpid but unmemorable, none of the characters really come to life, and a great deal of the novel was evidently written on autopilot if one knows one's Roth. I get that the novel is supposed to be skeletal and schematic like the play, but it just comes off as diluted Roth. Perhaps it is one of those books that you won't like if you have the wrong politics -- a lot of it is a tedious paean to the bourgeoisie that only comes to life at a couple of points, the best of which is the peculiarly resonant scene near the end in which a gravedigger explains the mechanics of grave-digging to Everyman shortly before he dies. There are also a couple of other arresting moments here and there, but not very many.

5 comments:

Elisa Gabbert said...

Yeah I was totally with Rivka for the first half ish, then it started to fall apart. Loved the concept though. I got interested in it when I read an interview with her in The Believer about her interest in MWI.

Sarang said...

Think I heard about it through James Wood's review in the NY'er. Put off reading it for years b'se our library at UIUC didn't have a copy. The concept was great and I really like the idea of filtering scientific terminology through someone who interprets the words in their everyday senses. (Though "Dopplerganger effect" -- ick.) Maybe she's someone else to put on your future-DFW watchlist.

Elisa Gabbert said...

For some reason this reminds me I still need to blog about homing pigeons.

Sarang said...

Dept. of "interesting theories"?

Elisa Gabbert said...

Ah, that must be the connection.