The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Even now, weeks since I’ve finished reading Tom Rachman’s novel, The Imperfectionists, I’m not sure what to make of it. I picked it up off of a table that was buy two, get the third free (I’m a sucker for those sales!) because it was the only one on there, aside from the two I had planned to buy anyway, that I did not already own. The cover was enticing, with unusual lettering and a tied newspaper at the bottom; however, when I flipped it over to look at the description on the back I found nothing but several additional glowing reviews. A little irritated at the arrogance of designing a book cover such as this, I reluctantly bought it with the other two and let it sit on my shelf for a few weeks.

I picked it up out of desperation, really, since I had created a wish list of books for my birthday and Christmas, and felt that all of the titles on that list were off-limits until after those had past. As usual, people like to get me one book, or maybe two if I’m lucky, but try to stick to presents not on my list because everyone thinks “everyone gets [me] books.” That is fine with me because if I had it my way, I would own a houseful of books and wear goofy old t-shirts instead of the professional clothing that I’m required to wear for work. Alas, my friends and family pretty much keep me looking nice with sweaters and scarves and I appreciate it beyond words, but it still means I spend around 6 weeks each year not buying the books that I most want and then kicking myself for not purchasing them regardless of the list when I only get one or two from the list. To get to the point, I was about three weeks in to the dreadful six to eight week no-book-buying part of the year and I had finished all of my new books…except for The Imperfectionists.

So it was that I curled up with Rachman’s debut novel and, despite my original hesitation, became quickly engrossed. The novel reads, in many ways, like a series of short stories that are only peripherally related to each other. The only thing holding it together is the dilapidated English-language international newspaper for which all of the characters work. I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of a newspaper, but even with this long-held interest I’ve never even considered working for one. If the novel’s description of a newspaper office is anything near accurate, my lack of interest seems fully justified.

Beyond that, however, the I found the novel quite compelling. Each chapter of the novel focuses on a single newspaper employee, and Rachman ingeniously used the newspaper’s headlines to title each chapter attaching the employee’s name and job title as an afterthought. The imperfections of the bunch run deep and are readily apparent, but between the plot of failing relationships and a failing newspaper, the editors are bitter, the journalists out of touch, and the editor-in-chief being in way over her head, there is a lot of (wry) humor and hilarious grammar jokes to be appreciated. The characters all seem lovable, even if some of them also seem rather easy to hate too.

Basically, I laughed out loud while reading this book and was sad to hear about the sorrows of the characters’ lives. Tom Rachman pulled me in to this crazy world of journalism and spit me back out at the end of the novel…much like I imagine a real-world journalism job might. I truly enjoyed parts of it more than I have enjoyed most novels over the years, but at times it was a lot to bear. If nothing other than an emotional roller coaster, I would say it was a roller coaster worth riding again. Maybe don’t run out to the nearest bookstore to pick it up, but if you’re not feeling the stuff on your reading list, check it out at the library. It’s a quick, enjoyable, and unusual read.

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