Excerpt from Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Atmospheric Disturbances

A Novel

By Rivka Galchen

Atmospheric Disturbances
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  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    256 pages.

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On a temperate stormy night

Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife. This woman casually closed the door behind her. In an oversized pale blue purse—Rema’s purse—she was carrying a russet puppy. I did not know the puppy. And the real Rema, she doesn’t greet dogs on the sidewalk, she doesn’t like dogs at all. The hayfeverishly fresh scent of Rema’s shampoo was filling the air and through that brashness I squinted at this woman, and at that small dog, acknowledging to myself only that something was extraordinarily wrong.

She, the woman, the possible dog lover, leaned down to de-shoe. Her hair obscured her face somewhat, and my migraine occluded the edges of my vision, but still, I could see: same unzipping of wrinkly boots, same taking off of same baby blue coat with jumbo charcoal buttons, same tucking behind ears of dyed cornsilk blonde hair. Same bangs cut straight across like on those dolls done up in native costumes that live their whole lives in plastic cases held up by a metal wire around the waist. Same everything, but it wasn’t Rema. It was just a feeling, that’s how I knew. Like the moment near the end of a dream when I am sometimes able to whisper to myself, “I am dreaming.” I remember once waking up from a dream in which my mother, dead now for thirty-three years, was sipping tea at my kitchen table, reading a newspaper on the back of which there was the headline “Wrong Man, Right Name, Convicted in Murder Trial.” I was trying to read the smaller print of the article, but my mother kept moving the paper, readjusting, turning pages, a sound like a mess of pigeons taking sudden flight. When I woke up I searched all through the house for that newspaper, and through the trash outside as well, but I never found it.

“Oh!” the simulacrum said quietly, seeming to notice the dimmed lights. “I’m so sorry.” She imitated Rema’s Argentine accent perfectly, the halos around the vowels. “You are having your migraine?” She pressed that lean russet puppy against her chest; the puppy trembled.

I held a hushing finger to my lips, maybe hamming up my physical suffering, but also signing truly, because I was terrified, though of precisely what I could not yet say.

“You,” the simulacrum whispered seemingly to herself, or maybe to the dog, or maybe to me, “can meet your gentle new friend later.” She then began a remarkable imitation of Rema’s slightly irregularly rhythmed walk across the room, past me, into the kitchen. I heard her set the teakettle to boil.

“You look odd,” I found myself calling out to the woman I could no longer see.

“Yes, a dog,” she singsonged from the kitchen, still flawlessly reproducing Rema’s foreign intonations.

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Excerpted from Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen Copyright © 2008 by Rivka Galchen. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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