Thursday, January 19, 2012

Galchen, Rivka – Atmospheric Disturbances

Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances reads like a breath of fresh air. The novel is equal parts mystery and philosophy. Her writing style is breezy. She walks the fine line between sparse and overly-descriptive with ease. Most importantly, the plot is highly original.
The novel follows the misadventures of Dr. Leo Liebenstein, an aging New York psychiatrist/hipster. One day Leo comes home to a woman who looks just like his beautiful Argentinian wife Rema. She has all the same memories and mannerisms but nothing can convince Leo that this is his real wife. He believes she has been replaced by a double but has no idea who did this or why they would do this. Forsaking this “simulacrum,” as her calls her, he travels to Argentina to seek the truth and to finally meet her estranged mother.
Tied up with this mystery is meteorological intrigue started off by one of Libenstein’s patients. Harvey is convinced he is part of a secret society that controls the weather. Although he is rather low on the secret society’s totem pole, Harvey frequently absconds to different parts of the country in order to perform the important weather control tasks given to him by the secret society. In a harebrained attempt to keep Harvey from taking off again, Rema and Leo set up a scam to give Harvey instructions using the name of meteorologist Tzvi Gal-Chen. Gal-Chen soon becomes a sort of conspirator in the plot, though no one has ever met him and there are plenty of obituaries in his name. Despite the complex nature of the plot, none of it ever seems silly or rushed. This is quite a feat considering the novel finished in less than 250 pages.
When Tzvi appears things get really interesting. It doesn’t take much to realize there may be a connection between “Tzvi Gal-Chen” and “Rivka Galchen.” Tzvi is actually a real person; in fact he is the father of Rivka. All of the research and personal information in the book is the real Gal-Chen’s. Also, Gal-Chen passed away unexpectedly. In many ways this book is a form of grieving. Like Leo, Rivka Galchen was trained as a psychiatrist. She also woke up one day to find someone important in her life missing. Atmosopheric Disturbances relates the states of panic, grief, and denial experienced during mourning as well as the way it can turn a life upside down. At the same time, it is not at all pushy about this theme. The focus remains on the mystery and never becomes preachy or over philosophical.
Rivka Galchen is a writer to watch. With a debut novel as well-written and exciting as Atmospheric Disturbances Galchen has the potential to be one of the best fiction writers working today. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Campbell, Bruce – If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor

Bruce Campbell is a legend in certain circles. He played the protagonist Ash in the wildly popular Evil Dead series; the smarmy Autolycus in Xena and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; and the titular character in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. I myself remember eating cereal with my Dad on lazy weekend mornings watching Brisco and can attest to the awesome power of Bruce Campbell’s B-rated goodness.
 If Chins Could Kill is a fitting literary companion to Campbell’s cult career. It follows him from high school student to the present (or at least the present as of 2001) in a meandering way.  While there is some exposition Campbell relies on anecdotes. The book is divided into short sections that usually revolve around a single aspect. The bulk of these tales will elicit a chuckle. My personal favorite involved his desperate quest for investors to fund The Evil Dead. As Campbell says:
You haven’t lived until you’ve screened an unrated Super-8  film at a dinner party for four dentists and their wives, watching them squirm as a possessed creature (me, in this case) bites his own hand off. The band news was – we ruined their meals. The good news was—we god some moola [sic].”
 Although a fast and funny read the above except can speak to its sloppiness. Campbell is a great storyteller but he is no writer. The large number of pictures seems like filler at times and the rampant clip art is both cheesy and often irrelevant.
To hardcore horror fans this is a must read. Readers who are not familiar with Bruce Campbell may want to sit this one out.