The Imperfectionists is about the private lives of the staff who run an English-language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter, which focuses on a particular staff member, reads like a short story. The opening chapter focuses on the newspaper's foreign correspondent in Paris and his dysfunctional relationships with his sons and daughters. Another chapter deals with the paper's obituary writer and how one death paves the way for his career to be resurrected. There are other chapters with beautiful storylines and wonderful narratives in Rachman's debut novel.
Even though the chapters have the feel of stand-alone short stories, there is a subtle narrative thread that ties the individual stories together. The business reporter's unhealthy romantic relationship is linked with the sad story of the news editor's partner. When the chief financial officer is duped by a frustrated and retrenched copy editor, it's not long before you discover that it all ties up with the publisher's indifference to the eventual fate of the paper in today's age of the Internet and free information.
It's hard to pick a favorite character in the novel. Rachman's microscopic exploration of each of his character's private life is so believable that you live it. For a few hours, I became the failed and cowardly Cairo stringer, I was the meticulous corrections editor, and I was the uber-controlling editor-in-chief. It's a sad feeling when you reach the end of each chapter, as if you're saying good-bye to that particular character.
Rachman gives all his characters distinct voices. Oftentimes, it is the dialogue of the characters the propel the story, it is their lines that give their purpose. The Imperfectionists may have focused on flawed characters, but Rachman has come out with a debut that's almost perfect in every way. I do believe it's the best novel I've read so far this year.
Read this book if:
- You've always wanted what it's like to work for a newspaper.
- You're a sucker for debut fiction.
- You're a voyeur.