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The Imperfectionists, 2

Tom Rachman

I wrote yesterday about how I came to find myself reading Tom Rachman’s new novel The Imperfectionists, which had been reviewed in the NYT last month by Christopher Buckley and by Janet Maslin. I finished it today and wanted to add a few words.

I loved it. It tells the story of the final months of an English-language daily newspaper published in Rome, each of its eleven chapters focusing on a different character. Following each chapter is a short piece detailing some moment in the history of the paper, from 1953 to 2007, with the chapters and the intermezzi ultimately converging.

Each chapter works well as a stand-alone short story, with Rachman immersing us quickly and deeply into one richly drawn (and imperfect) human after another. The story typically captures just a single moment in the character’s life, but always a revealing one, simultaneously comic and painful, allowing us to understand how the character’s connection to the newspaper fits into the broader context of the character’s life. As well as these stories function in isolation, they mesh magically to form a complex and beautiful novel.

In reading the book, I was reminded of Joshua Ferris’s 2007 novel Then We Came to the End, which also tracks employees of a firm nearing its end. Ferris’s humor was broader; it took longer for the pain to sink in. But both authors are masters at capturing office life, the connections formed by people not by choice but because they find themselves working together. If you haven’t read Ferris’s book, I suggest you read the two in succession.

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