The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

2010. Dial Press. Hardcover. 269 pages.

From: the public library

Heard about on: Omnivoracious, the blog by Amazon’s book editors.

In a nutshell:

The Imperfectionists is a collection of interlinked stories set primarily in Rome, the headquarters of a small English-language newspaper.  As the paper faces its likely closure, the stories show the personal travails of its staff, from the obituary writer to the copy editor to the chief financial officer.


Rachman’s writing has a nimble quality to it that I admired right away.  I want to use words like economical and efficient, but fear that makes the book sound terse and workmanlike, which is not what I mean.

Rachman worked as a news writer and editor before writing this book.  I think I have a penchant for writers who have been trained as journalists.  Whether journalism provides the experience to sense where the story lies, and to pick just the right details for color and atmosphere, I can only speculate.  Obviously, I enjoy authors who do not have a journalist background, but I suspect it’s most often the journalists’ style which makes me think – “I wish I could write like that.”  I’ll have to keep a watch out in the future to see if my hypothesis proves correct.

The characters of The Imperfectionists all seem to be contemplating or teetering on the edge of failure in some way, just like the paper which employs them.  It might be failure in romantic relationships or career failure, but it seems to hover near them.

My favorite parts of the book were the moments of tenderness and happiness because Rachman captures just how hard-won those moments can be, and how fragile.  Here is an excerpt from the perspective of the news editor’s twenty-something girlfriend who finds herself happy in a domestic life that she knows her Washington D.C. friends would not approve of:

When friends ask about her life in Rome, she says, “It’s fine, it’s good,” then is out of words.  She does not admit that the apartment is magnificent, the neighborhood ideal, and Menzies an endearing mess.  She does not speak of the pleasure she takes in tidying him, nor that she hasn’t snapped a single photo in earnest since coming to Rome, that she has no desire to, that she doesn’t care about grants or galleries anymore, if indeed she ever did.  Above all, she will not admit that she is happy.

p. 185

The quiet notes of contentment in the Corrections Editor’s story and reconciliation in the Editor-in-Chief’s story were the high points in the novel for me.  They made it easier to bear the later humiliation of one unaware character at the end of her story and a cruel act in the final story.

As much as I enjoyed the writing and fine moments in the book, I feel like I should be more enthusiastic about the book than I am.  I read it quickly due to an impending library due date, but managed not to read it hurriedly.  Still, it subsequently seems like a blip in my reading life.  In any case, I do think I will keep an eye out for Rachman in the future.  This was his debut novel.

Other reviews:

Beth Fish Reads – “Reading The Imperfectionists is almost like putting together a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. At first you see only a little bit, but as the novel progresses, you understand that the pieces interlink, extending chronologically and geographically, to create a picture that leaves you just a bit breathless.”

A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook – “The Imperfectionists, in capturing the vicissitude of the diminishing industry, also affords a myopic, but authentic view of human foibles.”

The Captive Reader – “Each [story] had enough layers that I was never truly comfortable while reading, never confident that I knew what was coming, and yet, even by being unpredictable, Rachman’s prose never felt formulaic.”

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One response to “The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

  1. Pingback: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman « The Sleepless Reader

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