JC: Tom Rachman’s fine novel The Imperfectionists is available in trade paper today. What’s left to say about this book? It’s one of the best novels I’ve read recently, and tackles rich, untouched literary turf. It’s one of those books that really is greater than the sum of its parts – each chapter/episode is a tiny gem, but the book as a whole is so splendid you’ll want to start it again immediately.
If that’s not enough, here are some of the things we wrote about The Imperfectionists last year:
The Imperfectionists centers around the employees of a small international newspaper based in Rome. Using each chapter as a character sketch, Rachman carves a small history of the paper:
At the behest of his editor, obituary writer Arthur Gopal is sent on assignment to interview an obscure, dying academic as information-gathering for the inevitable. Reading her texts, he becomes enthralled by her work, and despite his personal distaste for her, writes a beautiful elegiac obit for her. Herman Cohen, corrections editor, entertains a houseguest for whom he has had a hero-like worship for forty years. CFO Abbey Pineola finds herself uncomfortably seated next to the man she fired on an overseas flights, yet finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him. The onset of the internet age and the slow but obvious deterioration of the newspaper unveil a hazy future for all.
Rachman writes these scenes and scenarios with an unexpected elegance. He gets beneath the skin of his characters and reveals poignant scars and aches, wit and playfulness. Then he combines what feel like stand-alone stories such that he leaves the reader with a bigger, equally elegant whole.
and here’s part of what JR wrote back then:
The Imperfectionists will shock a lot of people, not American Psycho shock, but very much like the moments right after the world realized what a great book Then We Came To the End was, and to be honest, Rachman’s novel is as good as that masterpiece. There’s a moment when Abbey who has the wicked nick name, Accounts Payable, is almost convinced that the man she fired is good enough to sleep with, a moment of sorrow, and pity, hers and the readers, and then it’s gone, but you’re left wondering, and saying to yourself; “God damn this is good shit.” These individual chapters make up the life of the newspaper, and since it’s a Dial Press book, remind me of Kissing in Manhattan by David Schickler. It’s a perfect comp, but where Schickler sticks with arrested development, Rachman reaches nearly profound levels of realism through humanity. You’ll fall in love with Ruby Zaga, or the strange Winston Cheung, each person is so close that you can feel their breath on your neck. In the end the people and the story will blow you away, it’s about a struggling International newspaper and (should be a passé thing to write about, with all this internet talk and electronic book nonsense filling up everyone’s time), it’s people; a sad dog, a rabid reader who is ten years behind on her reading of the paper, and Kathleen, oh Kathleen, she’s so good, so right on and who I think is the most serious character in the book. Shit, it’s all serious, it’s prescient, it’s talking about a medium that you and I take for granted, and I for one buried in the sand years ago as being out of touch. Rachman, in his own fluent and vivid ways shows me just how wrong I was to assume that newspapers are dead.
And JE said this:
Rachman’s prose flows like water, and he’s got the gift for creating fascinating characters in spades. While the italicized newspaper history passages informed the story, they felt a little tacked on to me, though if I was a gambling man, I’d venture that Rachman had some outside editorial input on that count—ie, “people don’t buy short stories, we’ve got to tie these things together, etc”. The book doesn’t need them. Despite the fact that Rachman’s alternating chapters scarcely overlap, they succeed brilliantly in telling the story of newspaperdom in decline. This book made me think of Sherwood Anderson, in a good way.I’m really excited to see where TR goes next
What else does anyone have to say to get you to buy this book? How about a very cool piece for the When We Fell In Love Series.