“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman

Yes, yes, I know I’m supposed to be reading The Confusion, volume 2 of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. But finishing Volume 1, not to mention schlepping it everywhere for a month, made me want to take a wee break, which I did over the long weekend with Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists.

I read about this book first at Entertainment Weekly, then again online somewhere. It lodged on my radar, then was recommended to me by the Biblioracle at The Morning News (Great fun for book geeks like me.) So when I found it on the shelf at Half Price Books, well, who was I to pass it by when the universe was so obviously putting it in my path? (Moi, good at rationalization?)

Rachman’s first novel is about a struggling international newspaper and the people involved with it.

The paper is hardly at the cutting edge of technology–it doesn’t even have a website. And circulation isn’t increasing. The balance sheet is a catastrophe, losses mount annually, the readership is aging and dying off.

There are eleven chapters, each focusing on one character, which are also linked short stories. Most are employees of the paper, but a few are peripheral: a reader, an applicant, and a girlfriend. In between are brief pieces of the paper’s history. Over the book, all of these overlap and interweave.

This book tells a lot with very little; Rachman’s background in journalism shows itself in his eye for detail and in the sharp jabs of humor. But it’s the characters that drew me in and held me. I kept hoping for them to be happy, and ached for them when tragedy occurred. And occurred, it did. This book has moments of terrible, terrible sadness, if only because I cared so deeply for the characters who experienced them. Near the end of the book, I was exulting as one character’s chapter seemed to be ending without tragedy. Then in a very few lines, the knife twist occurs. I read the end of that chapter several times, marveling at the swiftness of its punch, even as I continued to wish it had gone differently.

In its workplace dynamics and relationships, the small joys and the big tragedies, this book often reminded me of Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End. Those who have worked at a newspaper or in a copy department will likely recognize many of the characters. This was a short, intense read, far more sad than I’d expected because I cared so much about the paper and its people.

3 Responses to ““The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    So glad to see your comments on The Imperfectionists. I just picked it up from the local library — the glowing review in the NYTimes Book Review piqued my interest. I’ve got way too much reading underway but based on your thoughts, I might have to put the others aside for this one. Thanks as always for sharing.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Jennifer, I do feel the need to warn you that each chapter has an O. Henry-esque twist that can be heartbreaking. It’s a rewarding, but not exactly fun, read.

  3. Steph Says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since it’s been published, so I’m glad to hear you found it so diverting and rewarding. I was also a huge fan of Then We Came to the End (currently reading Ferris’ follow-up The Unnamed, and not loving it nearly as much… it feels like a completely different author), so the comparison is impressive to me.
    I’m lucky that my library has this one available as an epub, and I’ve actually borrowed it in that version… Now it’s just a question of finding the time for it amongst all the other books I need to be reading!