“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman

“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman   (2010)  – 272 pages

“The Imperfectionists” – what a perfect name for a novel. 

This novel consists of linked short stories about an English-speaking newspaper that publishes from Rome. In each of the stories one of the people who works for the newspaper is the main character such as corrections editor Herman Cohen, copy editor Ruby Zaga, or business reporter Hardy Benjamin.

Tom Rachman brings a jaunty style to each of these stories as he tells us about these less than perfect people.  It’s quite obvious that Rachman loves the newspaper business and has all the compassion in the world for these men and women who work there.   After reading only a few pages of the novel, I knew I could settle in and just have fun reading these vivid stories.  Each story’s title is a clever newspaper headline such as “”Global Warming Good for Ice Creams”.   Each story is a combination of the main character’s work life and home life which usually intermix.  The main character in one story will frequently show up as a minor character in another story.

The newspaper which is the backdrop of these stories was started by an American millionaire from Atlanta in the early 1950s.   In little sections at the end of each story, Rachman tells us the history of the newspaper through the years.     

I’ve read several of these novels which are actually a group of linked short stories.  Two other fine examples are “Miguel Street” by V. S. Naipaul and “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout”.    What these novels of linked stories say to me is that, yes, each of us has our own set of damn problems, but, wait, let’s go over there and see what kind of damn problems that guy or gal across the street or across the office aisle has. 

Tom Rachman has a light touch, and these stories are exuberant as well as poignant.  According to the author’s notes, Rachman was born in London, raised in Vancouver, graduated from the University of Toronto, and lives in Rome.  In other words, he is another of those authors hard to pin down to any one country.

Somewhere I read a review talking about the similarity in tone of “The Imperfectionists” to “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris.   However I myself much preferred “The Imperfectionists” to the other book, because I sensed a certain amount of disdain that Ferris had for his characters.

“The Imperfectionists” has been my fun read of the year.  Other books have been deeper and more challenging, but this is the book I have enjoyed the most so far this year.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one. I thought it was wonderful!

    I do love the cover of the US edition… the UK one has a more frivolous look to it.

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    • Hi Kimbofo,
      I should have known – you’ve already read and covered “The Imperfectionists”. I must say I kind of liked the English cover with the cartoon people on it. Fun book.

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  2. I rather like linked short stories – in a sense you get the best of both worlds – the nuggety tightness of a good short story and yet the continuity of a novel. Tim Winton’s The turning is like that. Ishiguro’s Nocturnes is less so, but a couple of characters repeat. I hadn’t heard of Rachman until, probably, seeing kimbofo’s review, but he sounds good.

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    • Hi WhisperingGums,
      Yes, linked story novels are rapidly becoming one of my favorite genres. I’m reading another of these linked story novels now called “Welcome to the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan which I will be reviewing soon.

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  3. I’m not wild about the linked short story format. After finishing a chapter in a character’s life, I was not that anxious to pick up the book the next day, knowing that that character’s story was basically concluded, ready or not. It was similar to Olive Kitteridge and Winesburg, Ohio in that regard, and I had the same reaction to those two books. I do play to read Goon Squad, though!

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    • Hi Patti’s Pages,
      What a great name for a blog remembering the singer Patti Page! I like the linked story format, having read all the books you mention as well as Miguel Street by V.S. Naipaul. I think the success of Olive Kitteridge started this latest fad for them. Admittedly they are ‘literature lite’, but I find them fun anyway. They give me the sense that we are all in this together, everyone’s story is just as important.

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