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The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

October 15, 2010

Tom Rachman’s debut novel is a series of satirical short stories whose characters work at or are associated with the Rome office of an international newspaper—a twelve-page English-language daily. The characters are all flawed, but in different and surprising ways. These flaws are brought to life as they deal with the failing newspaper and the failings in their own lives. There’s a Paris correspondent who can’t grasp that his best days are behind him, the publisher who inherited the newspaper but wants nothing to do with it, the eager young journalist who allows himself to be walked all over as he desperately tries to get his first story, the business reporter who clings her slacker boyfriend for fear of loneliness—they are characters mired in tragedy and desperation, which makes their sometimes outlandish and rash actions believable. Separating each short story are even shorter snippets chronicling the history of the newspaper, making it a character in itself. Although a couple of the stories toward the end felt a little more contrived, there were no duds in the bunch.

Rachman, whose parents were both psychologists, has a good grasp on the human psyche, an innate understanding of what motivates people and what makes characters interesting, if not always likable. What I found most impressive with these stories is how quickly I cared about the characters. Rachman has a knack for brevity, and although his prose has been described as more pop than literary, I found it witty, engaging, entertaining and well-paced. The setting and circumstances of The Imperfectionists might draw comparisons to Joshua Ferris’s first book And Then We Came To The End (satirical take on a failing ad agency at the end of the dot-com bust, first novel from a young author, etc.), but I would also compare the two because I found them both fresh and enjoyable.

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