The Imperfectionists By Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists is flat-out one of the most enjoyable debut books I’ve read. This book has it all: writing that’s so brilliant and astute that it’s hard to believe this is Mr. Rachman’s freshman effort, highly original and authentic characters, and a very timely theme: the demise of the printed newspaper.

The novel — set in Rome — is focused on the personal lives of various news reporters, executives, copy editors, and (in one case) a reader. Each chapter focuses on one individual and is a story all its own (think: Olive Kitteridge or In Other Rooms, Other Wonders); together, the whole is greater than the part of its sums and represents the trials, tribulations, and occasional rewards of those involved with an international English language newspaper.

All of these multi-faceted, interwoven stories sparkle in different ways. There is Lloyd, the down-on-his-luck Paris correspondent who is willing to play his own son for a byline. There’s Arthur, the obituary writer and son of a famous journalist who sits on his laurels before his life is transformed by a heart-rendering tragedy. There’s Abby — aka Accounts Payable — the financial officer who finds that one of her firings comes back to “bite” her in a most unexpected way. There’s Herman, the overly hefty pussycat of a corrections editor with an 18,000-plus style guide he calls “The Bible”; woe is the unwitting writer who violates it! And Kathleen, the imperious and workaholic editor-in-chief who learns things about herself from a past lover that she would rather have not. And, in one of the most laugh-out-loud humorous of the stories, there’s Winston, the naive Cairo stringer who is manipulated by his competitor Snyder, a middle-aged man with an over-the-top ego.

These and other “imperfect” characters come alive for the reader, often in unexpected ways. The situations portrayed are as real as life itself; it’s obvious that Mr. Rachman cares about his characters and never sets them up as straw men to make a point or for comic relief. Between each chapter, the back-story of the newspaper is established, along with the everyday gripes of the employee — a pitch-perfect backdrop for current events. The Imperfectionists is, in turn, poignant, strongly imagined, and endearing. I can’t imagine it not being a winner.