A Year in Reading: Deb Olin Unferth

December 4, 2009 | 1 book mentioned 2

coverRivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances: It’s easy to read this book and be entranced by the protagonist, that lone man on a quest to find the wife who has been stolen from him and replaced by an impostor. But it’s the wife who finally broke my heart. Her story runs alongside and underneath his, submerged but now and then bubbling up through the sea foam of the story—a line of her distraught dialogue, a quick description of her crying quietly on the couch. We never hear her by straight route, we are dependent on his reportage. But still we see her with clarity. She struggles with him, yells at him. She is injured, bewildered, afraid. She runs after him, flies across the world to catch up with him. She is determined to keep him, even by deception. And when he tries to get away, she tells him simply that she will stay by his side, “until the end of time.”

It’s her faith that moves me. I wish it were my own. Don’t you, don’t we? Don’t we wish his illness explained our failures? That when our husband suddenly hates us, it’s not because he has fallen out of love with us. It’s not because we have done something unforgivable—or because we don’t know how to forgive him. Or because he can’t love, or we can’t, or because we are, at core, unlovable.

It’s because he has forgotten who we are.

If only we knew the right thing to say, the password (I will stay by your side until the end of time), he would come home.

More from A Year in Reading

is the author of the novel Vacation and the short story collection Minor Robberies, both from McSweeney's.


  1. This is a beautiful piece – the only thing I’ve read yet about this novel that really made me want to read it.

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