A Reality Test with Rivka Galchen 

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The L: Why did you choose to write from the perspective of a man?
RG: Probably some mix of envy and revenge. I've known a lot of really wonderful, data-loving, confident, affectionate-but-emotionally obtuse, and irrational-but-sound-of-rationality-addicted men. I find simultaneously mocking and being jealous of them for their higher rates of self-delusion, their studious missing of social cues and their ability to see their lives, regardless of how quotidian, as part of some grand heroic tale. How's that for generalization?

The L: That's an interesting point. Leo seems to drift into a virtual reality in the novel. If Leo was younger in the novel, would he be more into Live Action Role Playing or video games than real life?
RG: Yeah, maybe, he'd see his life like some montage of scenes from that great Park Chan-wook film Oldboy, where they have all those fights in those almost flat and seemingly endlessly long hallways that feel like some cross between video games and scary cartoons.

The L: The omnipresent character Tzvi Gal-Chen is named after your father. Is there significance behind the names of any of the other characters?
RG: If you take all the letters of the names of the different characters, shuffle them, then transpose their value an X increment, it reveals the terrifying and silent name of the God of our divine disorder.

The L: The novel starts out inside Leo's apartment in New York City. Later, Leo travels to Buenos Aires, then Patagonia, a sort of wilderness made of glaciers and volcanoes located on the southernmost tip of South America. Is there a relationship between the status of the characters and the landscape that surrounds them?
RG: I confess that it gave me a kind of pleasure to send Leo — someone constitutionally hostile to even the slightest habits of psychoanalysis — down further and further “South.” South being — the unconscious, Borges's notion of the South, Argentina itself as a country with more psychoanalysts per capita than anyother, and Patagonia as a kind of storied land of the primitive, even if in fact it was mostly, well, stories.

And then, since these characters take the human habit of projection to quite an extreme, I wanted them to be sinking into an environment that was more and more difficult to successfully cover up with projections. One that keeps intruding back.

The L: In Atmospheric Disturbances, the concept of parallel universes — and someone with psychosis intercepting messages or signs from that other dimension — reminded me of Richard Kelly's film Donnie Darko. Are you familiar with the movie?
RG: Ack! One of my very favorite movies. It's got almost everything I love. A scary rabbit, fear of insanity, intrusions of the heavy and the bizarre, a spooky old book, and a general nostalgia for high school. I haven't managed, though, to figure out how I feel about Southland Tales, which makes Donnie Darko feel by comparison like among the most comfortable, familiar, and normal of movies.

The L: Southland Tales — I had no idea what was going on the entire time (scenes like Justin Timberlake's dance sequence with the pin-up girls tided me over) — and the ending made no more sense. I think Atmospheric Disturbances is similar to DD (minus the scary rabbit, of course) as the ending is more subtle, without being completely disorienting. When I finished the book, I was left in a sad, contemplative state. It was bittersweet and sort of refreshing that there wasn't a mad dash to tie up the loose ends. It was more like the way life is. Did you intend an open ending for the novel?
RG: Maybe yes, maybe no? But I do think, that at the end of the proverbial day, I wanted to give readers a sense that, for the narrator, the other mysteries left more ambiguous were pocket change compared to the mystery of his heart. Cheesy, huh?

The L: Is there anything that you wish you'd been asked in an interview?
RG: Maybe the ideal way to pronounce "lentil"? My mom stresses the second syllable, and pronounces the "I" as a long vowel, and I think it sounds very pretty that way.


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