Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: The Imperfectionists


The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman. (New York: The Dial Press, 2010. 272 pp)

Tom Rachman studied at the University of Toronto and Columbia University. Tom worked as an editor and reporter for the Associated Press before moving to Paris to take a job as an editor for the International Herald Tribune. He now lives in Rome.


There are times when the setting of a story carries such strength that it acts as a central character in a plot. The Island demonstrates this role for fans of the hit television series, Lost, because they recognize the centrality of this setting in an encapsulating story about characters. In a similar manner, Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists, portrays – through the lives of its employees – the story of a daily, international newspaper situated in Rome. Each chapter spins a separate narrative – almost like small novellas – united only by the common employer and employees found at the paper.

As the title of the book suggests, Rachman’s characters embody the imperfections of life; they struggle on the job and at home, desperately trying to keep marriages, relationships, families, and the paper afloat. While the book proceeds, technology seeks to destroy the twentieth century foundations by which the paper was built.
On the one hand a Corrections Editor is more concerned with keeping tabs on grammatical mistakes than producing quality news correspondence on the web. On the other, a Chief Financial Officer must exhibit a tough external fa├žade in order to demand respect despite the fact that her love life is shattered. In both cases, the struggling characters personify the story of a newspaper on life support as the world changes around it.

Although Rachman masterfully weaves most of the characters into an overarching narrative about the progress and decline of the paper, I found some of the chapters to be out of place. Where most of the book builds upon previous chapters, continually referencing names of fellow employees occupying the Roman workplace, certain characters depicted in a couple of chapters have minimal association with the rest of the people introduced in the book. While these unfamiliar characters have interesting stories, they do little to further the narrative.

On the whole, The Imperfectionists strikingly portrays the broken nature of human relationships and human institutions. Nobody is perfect but beauty exists in our imperfections. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys character development and storytelling that creates a giant web of relationships between characters making the whole of the book greater than the sum of its parts.

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