Friday, July 11, 2008

Though Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances doesn't appear anywhere in this dream, I promise that's what this dream is about.

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Right before I went to bed last night, I read for a while from Rivka Galchen's impressive and strange new novel Atmospheric Disturbances (2008); as I read, I found myself reminded, more than anything else, of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled (1995), a book I read on its publication thirteen years ago and in a certain sense haven't stopped thinking about since. It's a giant mess of a book that partakes of nearly equal parts Kafka and Chaplin, about a pianist who is perpetually finding life interfering with life, small everyday distractions and failures of memory wreaking havoc on his efforts to be a good husband, father, and artist.

Ultimately The Unconsoled is as frustrating as it is memorable; I tend to think of it as a magnificent failure--yet one whose very ambition has shadowed all of Ishiguro's subsequent novels, showing them up for the circumscribed, disappointingly minor works that they are. {Though I should be clear that I'm in a definite minority here, as the consensus view of Never Let Me Go (2006) in particular is that it was brilliant.} I haven't stopped rushing to the bookstore to buy Ishiguro's novels the minute they're available, but so far I'm still waiting for him to write something as impressive as The Unconsoled.

Which brings me to my dream. Along with my parents, brother, sister, and rocketlass, I had decided to swim across Lake Michigan. Though the dream didn't offer an explanation, I had also decided to carry my copy of The Unconsoled with me. So I was more or less swimming one-armed, switching off every once in a while but always keeping one hand above the waves, the book--a 500-plus-page hardcover--clutched tightly. Fortunately, it turns out that not only is Lake Michigan not nearly as wide as one might think when standing on Montrose Beach looking east, but it also features quite a few spots where it's shallow enough that a swimmer can touch down and rest for a moment before plowing on. Carrying my book, and not being a particularly strong swimmer to begin with, I took full advantage of the shallow spots along the way.

When I reached the Michigan shore, I settled down on the beach to read the still-dry book as a sort of reward for my impressive accomplishment. Not wanting to damage the jacket with sand, I pulled it off the book . . . only to discover that back in 1995 when I had last read The Unconsoled, I had for some reason decided to drape a chapati around the cloth binding under the jacket; as you might imagine, after thirteen years, the chapati and the binding both were pretty gross.

And that's my dream about Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances. Maybe it makes you want to read it?


  1. I am generally pro-RG, given that both you and Ed P. are recommending, but really your dream just makes me want to swim across Lake Michigan while reading Ishiguro, thereby combining 2 of my favorite activities...

  2. Hi Levi-I'm with you on thinking Never Let Me Go is one of the most brilliant books of the last decade, certainly the only one that made me cry. I wonder if you'd be willing to talk about a "forgotten book" for my blog project. I post them or links every Friday. (

  3. Just read the review of Atmospheric Disturbances.For a first time author, that too very young, she's taken a terrific theme and review spoke glowingly about her writing. Can't wait to get a copy and read it.