Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review of The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, Book 14 of 52

Last weekend, I read Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists. I haven't tried to give "stars" to books I've reviewed because it seems so arbitrary; not all flaws are equal. But if I ranked books with stars, The Imperfectionists would earn them all.

It's been a while since I read something this good. The plot is simple: The Imperfectionists follows the founding, rise and decline of a small English language newspaper based in Rome through interconnected short stories: each vignette takes us into the personal life of one person associated with the paper.

I'm partial to this narrative approach- I never get sick of any of the characters, and I never tire of the surprises and reveals that each chapter brings. So Rachman scores easy points before I even open the cover.

But this book truly was magical. Each character leads a miserable life or will soon, and by the end of each chapter each character has had a chance to see their life for what it is: an unfulfilling charade. Some accept it, many ignore it, a few strive to change their lives. One by one, each character decides who he wants to be. The obituary writer responds to tragedy by delivering on his untapped potential, a lonely reporter ignores obvious and horrifying truths about her new boyfriend, the nervous possibly neurotic copy editor checks into a hotel room on New Year's Eve pretending to be on a business trip rather than face her empty apartment.

Ignoring the obvious is an important part of life everyone in The Imperfectionists, just as in real life. It straddles the line between poignant and black comedy, a literary genre I adore. 

I get each of those people in horrible and charming ways, and I recognize myself in every character, every chapter. So will everyone who takes the time (treats themselves) to read Rachman's debut novel.

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