Book Review #48: The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy (2021)

Rating: 4 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Atmospherians: A Novel
Author: Alex McElroy
Published: 2021 (Atria Books)
Pages: 288 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Humor, Satire, Literary
CW: Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Childhood Abuse, Suicide, Violence, Trolling/Doxxing, Cults, Sexual Content

My borrowed copy of The Atmospherians against a brick wall

Hello! I finished another book this week, by some miracle or way. Two in one week! I actually finished this one reading in a park, which seemed appropriate due to the naturalist cover (see photo above). Today has been pretty rough, but I’m glad to be ending it on a better note as I write this. My newest read is one I never expected to come across. The Atmospherians (or the_atmospherians …?) by Alex McElroy (they/them) is the first novel I’ve read by the author, and this is their first novel. I went into this one with a very open mind, because I literally had no idea what to expect. But by the end, I was equally entertained and perplexed!

Your pain won’t impress anyone. The people your pain does impress aren’t worth impressing” – Alex McElroy, The Atmospherians

The Atmospherians is a work of contemporary fiction. Sasha Marcus is a young social media influencer who created and led a popular wellness brand, until it was all brought down by a troll and a grievous error over social media, and now Sasha is officially cancelled and doxxed. As Sasha’s life crumbles around her, as both her boyfriend and best friend leave her, one of her oldest friends comes out of the woodwork, Dyson Layne, a flailing actor and visionary who decides that he needs a change and Sasha needs something to restore her reputation. Dyson asks Sasha to join his venture, which is leading a cult called The Atmosphere. The Atmosphere is a place in rural New Jersey where men victim of toxic masculinity are transformed to be better human beings in society. Told through sharp humor, Sasha and Dyson go through the challenges of running a cult and growing as much and as little as possible themselves.

Blake crooned cartoonishly to mock the top 40 hits on the radio. He considered these musicians beneath him, sellouts, but his envy was so obvious to me, and I felt closer to him – and distracted from my dread – by seeing into the feelings he’d never admit to” – Alex McElroy, The Atmospherians

The novel deeply focuses on the issues of Sasha and Dyson, either the friendship between them and individually. The book also calls out various social issues, and themes such as how we deal with toxic masculinity as a society and cancel culture. It almost felt satirical regarding current influencers/social media culture. There are hints in the narration like the storyteller is recalling a past event or maybe even subtly foretelling, but that is not so clear throughout the whole novel. The brief page interludes, though interrupting, were also divisive in telling the story. The writing was absolutely wonderful and clear though, and I was deeply entertained. McElroy used many literary devises extremely well, which may come from their education background (McElroy has a MA and PhD). But there were parts of the story and character progressions that felt dry to me, honestly, and at times I felt like there were more interluding periods than actual story development. The plot progression did feel a little all over the place at times, but it was not an issue for me.

A smart friend of mine, this philosophy guy who quit on college to work construction, used to tell me God is a novelist: Nothing is too convenient for God. You think: I couldn’t possibly lose my daughter at the same age as my brother. But God – and I don’t mean God god, because fuck him, I mean whatever’s shaping this world – only has so many notions” – Alex McElroy, The Atmospherians

For the characters not being the best human beings, both for Sasha and Dyson, I felt really attached to their development. Normally when characters tend to have anti-hero tendencies, I get a bit annoyed at them. But in The Atmospherians, I was rooting for Sasha and Dyson the entire time, which was shocking. Not even for them to fail, but for them to find some kind of satisfying conclusion, a happy or sad one. I was looking forward to seeing how it would turn out for them (I won’t give anything away though). The tone of this novel felt extremely satirical though, and often times outrageous. Also, this novel had many hard triggers to be aware of, including eating disorders, if that is a concern for any readers.

Despite her beset intentions and bitterness, she couldn’t withstand the expectations imposed on her appearance. And in doing so she taught me a valuable lesson in the inevitability of concession. The world encouraged me to see myself as an object of men’s desires. And for years I conceded. I shaped myself to the demands made on my body – kept it slender and pretty and fit – because I feared what would happen to me if I didn’t. I’d heard stories about the women who didn’t. When Dyson said, Show me how to have a body like yours, what I heard was: Show me how to internalize the expectations of magazines and commercials and lip-licking men in the street. Show me how to obsess over myself. To hate myself. To see my body as something both valuable and worthless, something constantly under construction. That was, I believed, what he anted from me, and regrettably, that’s what I taught him” – Alex McElroy, The Atmospherians

Why should you read this book? If you enjoy literary, satirical fiction about protagonists trying to start a cult based on reforming toxic men and find out more about themselves (mostly) and each other along the way, this is the book for you.

I give this one a 4 out of 5!


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