Who Do You Love?

Coverjump650_2 Liesl Schillinger In The New York Times:

In one of his best-known jokes (anti-joke is closer to it), the unsmiling comedian Steven Wright says, in a monotone: “I woke up one day and everything in the apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. I said to my roommate, ‘Can you believe this? Everything in the apartment has been stolen and replaced with an exact replica.’ He said, ‘Do I know you?’ ” This existential conundrum — the question of what makes an original different from a copy (and how anyone can prove that he is who he thinks he is once the matter is called into doubt) — is both the springboard and the ensuing spring of “Atmospheric Disturbances,” a brainy, whimsical, emotionally contained first novel by Rivka Galchen, a young M.D. turned M.F.A.

Galchen’s narrator, a fussy 51-year-old psychiatrist named Leo Liebenstein, believes that his beautiful, much-younger Argentine wife, Rema, has been replaced by a “doppelgänger,” a “simulacrum,” an “impostress,” an “ersatz” spouse. “Last December,” Leo explains, “a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife.” Like his wife, the newcomer has the same “wrinkly boots,” the same Argentine accent with “the halos around the vowels,” the “same baby blue coat with jumbo charcoal buttons, same tucking behind ears of dyed corn silk blond 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.” The idea that this cockatiel of a woman could not be the Rema in question is absurd, but the evidence of Leo’s eyes and ears doesn’t persuade him. “Same everything, but it wasn’t Rema,” he maintains. “It was just a feeling, that’s how I knew.”

More here.