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An impressive debut novel

  • Aug 14, 2010
"The Imperfectionists" tracks the terminal decline of a fictional English language newspaper (headquartered in Rome), as its continuing slide into financial insolvency makes its extinction inevitable. The book is structured as a series of vignettes of the paper's key staffers, from obituary writer to editor-in-chief. This device allows Rachman to give a kaleidoscopic view of his main character, which is the paper itself, or more precisely the specific constellation of talent, personalities, relationships, financial conditions and just random luck that have combined in the past to allow the paper to thrive and which now guarantee its demise. This approach is not without risk; for instance, I thought the individual-viewpoint stories in "Olive Kittredge" never coalesced to a coherent whole. Somehow (alchemy? magic? witchcraft?) Rachman avoids this trap - TI flows smoothly and irresistibly to its foregone conclusion.

What makes TI irresistible is the brilliance of Rachman's gift for characterization. Collectively, the motley crew of staffers in this newsroom accommodate every dysfunction in the manual, and a few the psychiatrists haven't yet gotten around to classifying. With one or two exceptions, each of Rachman's characters is desperately unhappy. Many of them seem close to some kind of edge. I found them all completely believable and totally fascinating. The irony in Rachman's portrait is impossible to miss -- newspaper readers form their worldview by reading and trusting the words of these deeply flawed people. Rachman's particular gift is to sketch each character's flaws with the relentless clarity of the anonymous, omniscient narrator, but to do it with obvious warmth and affection. He's worked with these folks, at least with their real-life counterparts at the (now defunct) International Herald Tribune, and he loves them.

Ultimately, The Imperfectionists is his extended eulogy to the profession of newspaper reporter and it has the charm and the power to move us that the best tributes attain. There is an elegaic feel to the book which makes it a pleasure to read, even as Gotterdammerung approaches and things in the newsroom are getting progressively darker. Thus, the recent book that TI most closely resembles is Stuart O'Nan's exquisite (and underrated?) "Last Night at the Lobster", a low-key, extremely moving account of the last day at work for the staff of a NE Red Lobster restaurant chosen for closure by the corporate beancounters. Rachman's story has a little more razzmatazz (naked bodies and naked ambition, suave Roman suitors, fancy cocktails), which makes it more fun to read than the O'Nan book. Fortunately it achieves this without lapsing into predictability, while maintaining the warmth and heart at its core. Rachman is so obviously fond of the characters he's created, warts and all, that he charms you into liking them too.

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More The Imperfectionists: A Novel reviews
review by . June 21, 2010
The Imperfectionists is much different than any other novel I've ever read, as it doesn't really have a plot. The only plot mentioned is at the end of each chapter in the last few pages where Rachman does some storytelling. As you read through the novel, it unfolds the story of how the paper initially began with one man's desire to create an International paper in English that would circulate around the globe.      I mention the fact that this novel does not have …
review by . May 27, 2010
I was suprised by how very much I enjoyed this wonderful debut novel. Revolving around the lives of the current staff of an Enlish language daily published in Rome, the narrative is broken up by snippets from the past that give the reader greater insight into the paper than the characters themselves have. Each chapter is a short story about one of the characters; the way they weave together to tell the story of the paper itself is a delightful surprise.     Each of these vignettes …
review by . September 16, 2010
With unsparing wit, Rachman portrays the dying throes of an international newspaper through its myriad, mostly sadsack, employees. This first novel is a series of linked stories, the characters united only by their ties to the newspaper.    Rachman introduces the paper through a veteran American-in-Paris freelancer whose dismal situation rather parallels that of the newspaper. And old rouĂ© getting his comeuppance, Lloyd Burko is broke and desperate for a story. His much-younger …
Quick Tip by . June 18, 2010
I never thought a book without a plot could be as enjoyable as this book has been to read. Each chapter hones in on a specific character. At the end of each chapter, Rachman brings you back in time when the paper was originally coming together, the struggles and excitement of it all. It's a very enjoyable read. This book breaks a lot of rules and has a style of its own.
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Starred Review. In his zinger of a debut, Rachman deftly applies his experience as foreign correspondent and editor to chart the goings-on at a scrappy English-language newspaper in Rome. Chapters read like exquisite short stories, turning out the intersecting lives of the men and women who produce the paper—and one woman who reads it religiously, if belatedly. In the opening chapter, aging, dissolute Paris correspondent Lloyd Burko pressures his estranged son to leak information from the French Foreign Ministry, and in the process unearths startling family fare that won't sell a single edition. Obit writer Arthur Gopal, whose overarching goal at the paper is indolence, encounters personal tragedy and, with it, unexpected career ambition. Late in the book, as the paper buckles, recently laid-off copyeditor Dave Belling seduces the CFO who fired him. Throughout, the founding publisher's progeny stagger under a heritage they don't understand. As the ragtag staff faces down the implications of the paper's tilt into oblivion, there are more than enough sublime moments, unexpected turns and sheer inky wretchedness to warrant putting this on the shelf next to other great newspaper novels. (Apr.) 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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ISBN-10: 0385343663
ISBN-13: 978-0385343664
Author: Tom Rachman
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: The Dial Press
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