Tom Rachman’s debut novel “The Imperfectionists” is pretty much the anti-novel. Set in the bustling and vibrant city of Rome, this work follows the public and private lives of ten newspaper workers (and one reader) over the span of nearly 270 pages. What makes this story unique is the format. Set up as collection of short stories, each writer, editor, publisher’s story is prefaced with a newspaper headline which ultimately becomes the punch-line to his or her miserably dysfunctional lives.
In addition to the short story feel, Rachman has included the back-story of the newspaper’s humble beginnings. This italicized section at the end of each “chapter”, while a good idea in theory, actually takes away from the story as a whole. It is distracting and honestly a little jarring. The reader is given no introduction to the characters and these little clips featuring the founders of the newspaper do not even seem to relate to the stories they succeed.
“The Imperfectionists” is definitely an interesting idea, however. Gradually introduced to characters through the eyes of their peers, there is a different sort of connection when it comes time to tell their own personal stories. The obvious connection between all of these people is the newspaper, yet there is also a certain sense of disillusionment surrounding each one as their personal lives unravel before us. At a certain point everyone becomes irrelevant, the newspaper included. As everything that has been built up over the past fifty years falls further and further out of fashion, these characters seem to realize the impermanence of their own legacies.
Rachman is a confident writer. He just needs to learn to trust his own abilities and not resort to things like the italicized back-story which does not really flow well with the rest of the book. Overall, “The Imperfectionists” is not a bad start to Tom Rachman’s budding career.