Readers of this blog will note the lack of fiction in my book selections. But every so often, I try to mix it up, and the result this month was The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Too many newspaper reviews have praised this book, so there isn’t much I can add that is original, only that I think this is one of the best books I’ve read all year. One of the reviews I read noted that you had to go back and reread a few chapters to see how carefully the book is put together. It’s true. The bottom line is that this book was perfectly engineered.
First, the style of book reminded me a lot of Raymond Carver short stories. Carver’s stories in Short Cuts were turned into a great movie by Robert Altman and I wish Altman were around to have a crack at Rachman’s fascinating characters. However, unlike movies such as Crash and Magnolia (and so many others) where characters are introduced and then connected neatly at the end, The Imperfectionists is more like looking into a house through each of its windows. Each chapter is a mini-story about a character, with an occasional cameo from another chapter’s character. The author walked such a fine line of keeping the book a single novel, and not just short stories. He executed perfectly–the history of the newspaper is what ties the entire book together neatly.
The newspaper is also an important theme. The book is a valentine to print journalism, with characters that will be familiar to anyone who has set foot in a newsroom. It’s also a tale of heartbreak, fitting for a book about newspapers. The paper had its heyday and at the time of most of the stories is dying a slow death. If anything, the book lets readers see some of the back drama of the people who bring you headlines each day. This is made even more clear with the story of Ornella, the “reader” and lone character in the book who doesn’t work for the paper.
Finally, the book is set in Rome. So it has what I have to believe are realistic descriptions of what it is like to live as an ex-pat in another country. It makes me jealous of those who have had the chance to live and work overseas for a period of time. The author had this experience and it seems he knows it well.
I’m summarizing too much here, and not reflecting. But there’s not a lot to reflect on other than there is nothing better than sitting down and reading a hell of a story. That’s what the Imperfectionists is–just a great story. It’s not a trashy novel, the characters and plot themes are certainly on a different level than, say, the latest Dan Brown thriller, but it would make for a great summer read if you are so inclined.
A note–my apologies if my reviews sound too close to some of the newspaper reviews. This was really just a great book, and so many of the reviews hit it right on the head. I linked to a few of them above. No one can tell me the newspaper is dead!