Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Years ago, I lent The Imperfectionists to a friend and after a while, I stopped expecting it back. Then one day, as we were making conversation at the university, she handed it back to me, much to my surprise. The copy she gave me was clearly new and she looked somewhat embarrassed. Apparently she had completely ruined the original one by dumping it in water (I can't remember how) and had ordered a new one for me from Amazon. Naturally, I was in awe at her thoughtfulness.

In a way, that story resembles the tone and contents of Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists. It's a collection of anecdotes that all revolve around an American newspaper in Rome. Each chapter is its own short story almost, but there is also a strong central narrative that pulls the reader forward. Chapters are dedicated to the employees (and a reader) of the newspaper and show the daily life of working at a newspaper - and living in Rome.

Reading The Imperfectionists a second time - something that every reader definitely needs to do - I noticed how different my overall impression was. On my first read through, I found the newspaper well managed, Rome a delight and somehow managed to finish the book feeling that everything worked out in the end. Reading it a second time now, I realized how wrong my initial judgment was. Although there is humor and whimsy, The Imperfectionists has the same menacing overtones as Roald Dahl's work. The stories are fairy tales until they aren't. In one surprising scene, the callous "accounts receivable" finally hits it off with an ex coworker that she had secretly been responsible for sacking. Once they make it to a hotel room, however, the tables turn and the coworker turns out to be something different than the gentleman he seemed.

Many of the individual chapters are brilliant in themselves and I feel that I could read them again even now. The only issue I had was that I find the history of the newspaper dull and perhaps unnecessary. It's dispersed across the book, a few pages after each chapter, but it just doesn't have the same emotional weight as the chapters themselves. So it is inevitably outshone by the amazing stories that form the true core. But don't get me wrong, The Imperfectionists is a wonderful book, one that I'm glad to have back in my bookshelf.

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