This book was purchased for review.
“The Imperfectionists” is the incredible, haunting, and virtuosic debut novel written by Tom Rachman. Each chapter focuses around one of eleven indelible, lovable, and tragically flawed characters with ties to an unnamed English-language newspaper in Rome. Contrary to what the title may lead you to believe, the book, and, indeed, every chapter, is perfect.
Unfolding as a series of disparate, non-linear short stories with overlapping characters and loose ties to one another, the novel is so full of life and so vividly written it is reminiscent of a modern day film or television show. Think of the narrative structure and character studies found in Pulp Fiction (minus the extreme violence), Lost (without all the supernatural island stuff), or Watchmen (sans super heroes) and you get the idea. Say, now that I think of it: Dear Hollywood, make a television show based on this book immediately!! Interspersed between each vignette is a chronological history of the newspaper, from it’s founding by Cyrus Ott in the 1950’s up to it’s inheritance by his flakey, apathetic grandson Oliver, himself the subject of the last chapter.
To give away too much of any of the rich stories and even richer characters here would ruin the profound pleasure of discovery to be found in Rachman’s novel, so here’s a carefully brief and perhaps-too-carefully vague overview of some my favorites:
Arthur Gopal is the complacent, nebbish Obituary Writer on assignment to discretely interview a dying, abrasive Austrian feminist for her own, upcoming obit. Mid-interview his mind wanders and you can’t blame him: he’d much rather be home making “Nutella sandwiches and [cheating] at Monopoly with Pickle,” his adorable and equally nerdy eight-year old daughter. Unbeknownst to Arthur, he will return from this work trip forever changed…
The Corrections Editor is Herman Cohen, author of “The Bible” – the newspaper’s 18,000-entry-long-style guide, essentially a snarky list of the egregious grammatical, spelling, and nonsensical mistakes the reporters have made. With sloppy work at an all-time high, Herman chews out his writers for referring to Iraq’s former dictator as “Sadism Hussein” and describing Germany’s economy as “suffering from genital malaise.” But Herman’s not just an irritable, spell checker. He’s a devoted, middle-aged husband, excited to be entertaining his life-long best friend, Jimmy, whom he has idolized and aspired great things for since they first met.
Abbey Pinnola is the Chief Financial Officer but everyone at the office refers to her derisively as “Accounts Payable” being she doesn’t speak or deal with anyone but the Editor-in-Chief, Kathleen Solson. Uptight, lonely, and lovelorn Abbey only wishes for some privacy and some sleep on her eleven-hour flight from Rome back to Atlanta, Georgia. Instead, she finds herself falling for her seatmate, the paper’s former copydesk writer Dave Belling, who doesn’t seem to realize Abbey ordered him fired to cut costs.
The marvel of Rachman’s writing is unlike anything I have ever encountered as a reader. His compassionate handling of each character’s varied and unique trials and tribulations is nothing short of remarkable and fascinating. For a multi-character story, there are, incredibly, no weak links here. Each character is drawn so well that, reading the book, I found myself wishing each chapter would not end. When each chapter did unfortunately end, I was honestly sad to leave the life of the person I just read about. To continue harping on this point, if by some magic any given chapter happened to mutate and turn into a novel unto itself about that respective character I would have devoured that book. Perhaps the most impressive and dramatic feat Rachman pulls off is the unity of the novel. In writing this review, I tried very hard to come up with an answer to how Rachman did this but, alas I still can’t quite figure it out. How do these disparate and fragmented stories all fit together to form such a satisfying and complete whole? I don’t know. But they do.
The best I can do is to make up an analogous story. Imagine your in a museum, looking at a giant mosaic painting. From afar it’s a beautiful, detailed, and photo-realistic painting of some foreign yet some how familiar people. They are sitting together as if in posing for a grade-school class photo, each one of them wearing a slight, intriguing smile. You’re curious, so you approach the portrait. Up close you see that the images of each of these strangers are made of smaller paintings depicting key scenes from their lives. You see the people they love, the things they own, the jobs they do.
You take a step backward.
It all makes sense.
You cannot move.
You stand there for hours.
Then the security guard tells you the museum’s about to close.
A little dramatic, I know, but as I closed the cover to this book, the above illustrates how I felt to leave my newfound friends. Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is unquestionably one of the best books I have ever read. Heartbreakingly unforgettable. Immensely recommended.
Rating 10 One of the Best
Ryan Hobler is a singer/songwriter who is also a major book nerd. Inspired by great writing, Ryan writes songs whose themes run the gamut. Love, defeat, resilience, stupidity, the absurd and mortality all figure prominently. Oh yeah, and songs about cats and dogs. You can check out his music on his webpage: www.RyanHobler.com.