- Series: Random House Reader's Circle
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; 1st edition (January 4, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385343671
- ISBN-13: 978-0385343671
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (646 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Imperfectionists: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – January 4, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2010 Printing presses whirr, ashtrays smolder, and the endearing complexity of humanity plays out in Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists. Set against the backdrop of a fictional English-language newspaper based in Rome, it begins as a celebration of the beloved and endangered role of newspapers and the original 24/7 news cycle. Yet Rachman pushes beyond nostalgia by crafting an apologue that better resembles a modern-day Dubliners than a
Tom Rachman on The Imperfectionists
I grew up in peaceful Vancouver with two psychologists for parents, a sister with whom I squabbled in the obligatory ways, and an adorably dim-witted spaniel whose leg waggled when I tickled his belly. Not the stuff of literature, it seemed to me.
During university, I had developed a passion for reading: essays by George Orwell, short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, novels by Tolstoy. By graduation, books had shoved aside all other contenders. A writer--perhaps I could become one of those.
There was a slight problem: my life to date.
By 22, I hadn't engaged in a bullfight. I'd not kept a mistress or been kept by one. I'd never been stabbed in a street brawl. I'd not been mistreated by my parents, or addicted to anything sordid. I'd never fought a duel to the death with anyone.
It was time to remedy this. Or parts of it, anyway. I would see the world, read, write, and pay my bills in the process. My plan was to join the press corps, to become a foreign correspondent, to emerge on the other side with handsome scars, mussed hair, and a novel.
Years passed. I worked as an editor at the Associated Press in New York, venturing briefly to South Asia to report on war (from a very safe distance; I was never brave). Next, I was dispatched to Rome, where I wrote about the Italian government, the Mafia, the Vatican, and other reliable sources of scandal.
Suddenly--too soon for my liking--I was turning thirty. My research, I realized, had become alarmingly similar to a career. To imagine a future in journalism, a trade that I had never loved, terrified me.
So, with a fluttery stomach, I handed in my resignation, exchanging a promising job for an improbable hope. I took my life savings and moved to Paris, where I knew not a soul and whose language I spoke only haltingly. Solitude was what I sought: a cozy apartment, a cup of tea, my laptop. I switched it on. One year later, I had a novel.
And it was terrible.
My plan – all those years in journalism--had been a blunder, it seemed. The writing I had aspired to do was beyond me. I lacked talent. And I was broke.
Dejected, I nursed myself with a little white wine, goat cheese and baguette, then took the subway to the International Herald Tribune on the outskirts of Paris to apply for a job. Weeks later, I was seated at the copy desk, composing headlines and photo captions, aching over my failure. I had bungled my twenties. I was abroad, lonely, stuck.
But after many dark months, I found myself imagining again. I strolled through Parisian streets, and characters strolled through my mind, sat themselves down, folded their arms before me, declaring, "So, do you have a story for me?"
I switched on my computer and tried once more.
This time, it was different. My previous attempt hadn't produced a book, but it had honed my technique. And I stopped fretting about whether I possessed the skill to become a writer, and focused instead on the hard work of writing. Before, I had winced at every flawed passage. Now, I toiled with my head down, rarely peeking at the words flowing across the screen.
I revised, I refined, I tweaked, I polished. Not until exhaustion--not until the novel that I had aspired to write was very nearly the one I had produced--did I allow myself to assess it.
To my amazement, a book emerged. I remain nearly incredulous that my plan, hatched over a decade ago, came together. At times, I walk to the bookshelf at my home in Italy, take down a copy of The Imperfectionists, double-check the name on the spine: Tom Rachman. Yes, I think that's me.
In the end, my travels included neither bullfights nor duels. And the book doesn't, either. Instead, it contains views over Paris, cocktails in Rome, street markets in Cairo; the ruckus of an old-style newsroom and the shuddering rise of technology; a foreign correspondent faking a news story, a media executive falling for the man she just fired. And did I mention a rather adorable if slobbery dog?
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The other issue is that there's no kindness to be found in the thing. We take a close-third zoom through the lives of a group of people who are either contemptible, pathetic, or both. They're put in difficult situations, given tough choices, given opportunities to blossom or transcend, but they don't. They are petty, and confronted with their pettiness they remain petty. No one is redeemed, and there is no warmth here, or at least, nothing that isn't fleeting. If you wanted to curl up with a book that would make you feel like shooting yourself in the head, but in a kind of clever and witty way, well, you've found your man.
What's remarkable about this last criticism is that the writing in this collection is so jaw-droppingly wise, so honest and earnest and slick, that I don't know what to do with the overall ethos. That a writer of such staggering talent chooses this trajectory through these set pieces is, well, I dunno what it is. Some people, myself included, believe that literature should give you a way forward, even if the sense of the way forward evaporates before the kettle starts boiling. This collections contains none of that, and I probably shouldn't blame the author for it. But there's a lot of things I shouldn't do and yet keep doing anyway. Rachman's characters and I have that in common, anyway.
Aside from these critiques, this book has its moments, and they are as moving and powerful as anything I've read anywhere. The first chapter, in particular, will sit you down and cause you to pour yourself a bourbon, even if you have no bourbon to hand, even if you don't even like bourbon, because after Rachman's existential fugue on death and meaning you will need a drink, and by God you will find one whatever your circumstances. It takes a person of wisdom and profound moral seriousness to conceive a work as substantial as The Imperfectionists, and a rare literary gift to deliver it in the way he's delivered it. Practically anyone would die happy to have written a book half as good as this one, but the fact that Rachman is capable of writing it moves me to knock off a star: if a man can hang the moon, I want to see him do it, damn it. His second novel will probably cause the planet to explode.
Tom Rachman is a very good writer, and there are times when the prose in this book sings. The characters in this book ring half true for anyone who has spent time at a newspaper on a downhill slide.
If you've worked in a newsroom, you know that quirky, and sometimes twisted people are attracted to journalism--especially to struggling newspapers. Ex-pat Americans are a breed apart wherever you encounter them. Rachman captures those qualities perfectly.
But The imperfectionists is an imperfect portrait. There's plenty of sadness here; what's missing is the joy.
There's sadness and cruelty to be found in any newsroom, but these are also raucous, joyful places where delightful, hilarious things happen and wrongs are occasionally righted.
Rachman reveals only the dark. His characters commit and endure wrong upon wrong culminating (spoiler alert: stop reading now if you don't want in on a key plot point) in the cruel and unnecessary execution of the publisher's innocent dog; and that dog was one of the few sympathetic characters in the book.
Ultimately The Imperfectionists is a bleak and depressing book well written.
It is not a sad book, though. Most of it is breezy, somewhat tongue-in-cheek even. Marvelous writing all the way through. I found myself rereading pages and making it a point to remember in which chapter was this glorious passage.
As the book synopsis tells you, each chapter focuses on one person. With only a few details and happenings, Rachman gets to the core of each character - what makes them Them. Each story touched me so deeply that I had to pause after each chapter to savor and digest the soul of the person I had just read about. In more than a few cases I saw aspects of myself in these characters.
I have nothing more to say than if you savor great writing and enjoy character studies, you must read this book. I'm off to the Kindle site to find more of Rachman's writing.
The book is set in Rome, but nowhere does Rome come into play. They might as well be in Scranton, PA. It is as if the author took a staff list for a business and then wrote up completely isolated, independent short stories about each person, but only focusing on the most horrible irredeemable aspects of their personalities and lives. I thought maybe it would tie everybody together in the end, but nope. The characters stand alone, they don't actually interact with each other and then the book just ends.
I completely regret purchasing and reading this book.I'm left feeling like somebody has run their nails down a chalkboard.