... bold, mischievous, and brilliant ... While the foundations of the story might sound zany, The Athmospherians is a heady exploration of masculinity in crisis, the toxic nature of internet discourse, and the damaging pursuit of relevance over all else. There are moments when the plot borders on the delirious, but McElroy never loses the narrative thread or its foundations in the very real concerns of today. This is a book that almost demands to be read compulsively, so hard is it to fully relax in the new scenarios that come with each page. It is also side-splittingly funny and seductive in the way that a smooth-talking swindler or too-good-to-be-true social media starlet so often is ... One of the ways McElroy accomplishes this is through their precise use of language. The novel is infinitely quotable, providing an embarrassment of descriptive riches ... These insights are easily recognizable and therefore haunting. When reading about the dazed man-hordes that populate this novel’s world, it’s very easy to superimpose images from anti-mask protests and the storming of the Capitol ... Despite the hyperbolic nature of the situations that unfold, there is a very keen awareness of believable human behavior, especially that of our darkest impulses ... in its refusal to sugarcoat what drives the characters, it very effectively holds up an ugly mirror to the reader as well. Although McElroy probes and pokes fun at men’s most problematic behaviors, their protagonist is not a stand-in for a superior moral compass; Sasha is just as prone to dehumanizing the men as men have dehumanized her throughout her life. The most powerful message in The Athmospherians might be that when we turn others into monsters, we become monstrous ourselves ... With a set-up as delicious as The Atmospherians’, it’s a bit of a disappointment that there aren’t more depictions of the fraudulent workshops Sasha and Dyson concoct. It would have helped to both differentiate the men from each other and define what kind of transformations are taking place in the characters. Also, for anyone who suffers from emetophobia, the book should come with a massive warning sign ... it will be hard to deny that this is a novel you’ll mull over long after you’ve read the last sentence. You might even memorize its most biting quips.
Satire is a difficult balancing act of writing, and McElroy manages it beautifully. In the book, a phenomenon in which men 'horde' together forms the backdrop for a nuanced, sticky exploration of masculinity and the roles people play in a binary world ... One of the greatest strengths of The Atmospherians is how profoundly it pushes into the ways in which binary thinking and prescribed notions of identity and worth are harmful ... Existing both inside and outside of time, living in a body both solid and utterly permeable—throughout The Atmospherians, McElroy exposes the cognitive dissonance required to live in a world in which everything exists alongside everything else all at once, the world of the internet. It is a brilliant debut, marking McElroy as a writer to watch.
This debut novel has its uneven bits—the long sections about the Atmosphere’s beginnings could be trimmed to save space for explaining how the cult grows later on, but McElroy offers trenchant commentary on our society’s fraught gender dynamics ... The Atmospherians provides a sharp-edged view of how contemporary gender politics have changed culture—but not what it means to be human.
McElroy continually finds ways to surprise us, throwing one curveball after another to keep the enclave teetering along its precarious path ... The thinness of the veil between bizarre fiction and current reality gives one pause ... The novel is briskly paced and structured in short chapters that either move the plot forward, build suspense, or provide needed context. McElroy renders characters and scenes in brilliant flashes of memorable images ... Images such as these are doing double-duty, giving us vivid mental pictures that also speak to the peril and anxiety surrounding Sasha with allusions to electric shock and piercing metal objects. This is not to say that the novel is grim — it’s delightfully witty satire ... Reading The Atmospherians was like eating one dark chocolate, sea salt truffle after another until, oops, I’d eaten the whole box. 'Sea salt truffle' may sound weirdly specific, but I assure you, the humor here is delicious, and Sasha is salty ... I often get annoyed with protagonists who make as many self-destructive decisions as Sasha does, but her recklessness is different, fueled by a compelling amalgam of guilt and contrariness. She, like the whole novel, plunges forward with so much gusto, I couldn’t look away.
... not another Internet Novel. McElroy reproduces a feeling, a vibe, of the internet without making the internet the primary object of attention. The internet is a useful readymade, the smoke machine that produces the novel’s climate, because this climate—a mixing-up of the bizarre, brutal, and banal—fits McElroy’s actual object: white American masculinity ... The novel’s tone is zany, zeitgeisty ... The Atmospherians is best when it declines to psychologize, to reduce the problems of masculinity to the scale of particular traumas. The novel’s sometimes-wackiness helps resist this psychological reduction, as does its conversion of men into archetypes ... McElroy’s doubled, paradoxical voice captures this indistinguishability of masculinity’s mundanity and its viciousness. The novel falters when it falls back on easier answers ... This paradoxical writing of a new masculinity washed white as snow is also a whitewashing of the past, a covering-up. Even when men are separated from the outside world for their own good (like endangered creatures) and for the world’s (like hazardous materials), blood and danger remain stubbornly present, just beneath the surface.
Framed as Sasha’s memoir and switching between the cult’s development and Sasha’s earlier years, the novel’s pacing is beautifully unhurried. Exploring the complexities of friendship, a culture of toxic masculinity, and the perils of constantly being online, this is an ambitious, timely, and dazzling debut.
McElroy’s debut is as uncomfortable as it is thought-provoking. It takes on toxic masculinity, eating disorders, influencer culture, and the violence inherent in power dynamics without dragging or overreaching ... Edgy, addictive, gruesome, and smart.
McElroy’s impressive debut novel (after the chapbook Daddy Issues) lands a well-crafted jab at toxic masculinity and attempts to control it ... The author conveys Sasha’s dilemma in rich prose and haunting images, using a finely honed satirical lens. This notable debut makes hay with the miasma of contemporary culture.