The Imperfectionists: Occasionally Perfection Itself

Tom Rachman sure knows how to make a story turn on a dime.

The Imperfectionists is a collection of linked short stories about the employees (and one reader) of an international newspaper based in Rome. Interspersed between these stories are short hits of the paper's history, complete with the dramas of its founders.

The Imperfectionists isn't exactly full of literary flourishes. Plot appears to be of the essence; but the real meat is in the character studies. When Rachman really ties these two elements together, his stories approach perfection. I dare anyone to tell me that the Arthur Gopal story, the tale of a lackluster obituary writer's miraculous transformation after a tragic event, isn't perfection itself. Rachman's portrait of a our public vs. private personas, the sweetness of the mundane, and our natural tendency towards pettiness, as if death's eternal presence relieves us of some level of responsibility, is sharp and exquisite.

The collection is uneven, though. Rachman's dedication towards mundane details can irritate. Rudy, the soppy copyeditor, weaves in and out of spoken and internal monologue and given the tedious workings of her brain, this is no treat. Women also do not come off well here–Rudy is the typical 40-something small-minded harpy; Abbey, the CFO, is the typical overworked, lonely, emotionally stagnant divorcee. Not that the men come off that much better, but there are definitely caricatures at play here.

The Imperfectionists does nicely showcase print's decline in the face of free online content, though without suggesting any solutions. What the book does best is show the intersection of our working and personal lives, and the tiny sadnesses, and small joys that really do make up the average existence.

"[Kathleen] wipes her nose. 'When I'm old and bent and sitting in a chair, you come and hold my hand. All right? That's your job. Okay?'
He takes her hand and kisses it. 'No,' he says. 'When you're old and bent, I'll be gone. I'll hold it now. Later, you'll have to remember.'"

The Imperfectionists / Tom Rachman / The Dial Press / PB, 2011

4 comments:

KJB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KJB said...

I am reading "The Imperfectionists" and, overall, am enjoying it, however, more than once, I have almost put it down over the depiction of women. Rachman is so weak there that he would have been better not to have attempted writing for 'the other side of the world'. I was glad to see similar thoughts in your review.

Ceri said...

Great review. :D It's a shame when stories can fall sort of flat when a male author fails to write a solid female character (the same goes for a female author and male character). :S I think I'd still pick this up and read it if I came across it, just to get a good feel of it.

Teddy Rose said...

This one is on my TBR. I find most short story collections "uneven" but usually worthwhile anyway. I think I will still give this one a try.

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