January 18, 2010
Jason Rice: It’s a rare book that makes me want to start it again as soon as I’ve turned the last page. To say I’ve fallen madly in love with The Imperfectionists is an understatement. Over the last few weeks this debut novel has surprised and thrilled me, never left my side, and somehow renewed my faith in the daily newspaper. I’ve even stopped myself from reading this book so I could make it last longer.
The Imperfectionists, or the people who I assume to be imperfect, are in fact that real gems of this story. Characters like Lloyd Burko, who gets this story off the ground, and becomes a beacon for the entire cast, and someone I looked back to every few chapters. What makes this story so engrossing is the different narrators Mr. Rachman deftly weaves together to form a larger tapestry (despite the fact that every editor and agent I’ve ever come across has told me that connected stories don’t sell). Lloyd Burko is a down on his luck reporter living in Paris. He’s desperate for a story, and rifles through his son’s life to find one. It’s these quiet moments of professional desperation that made me want to climb inside this book, and take up a permanent residence among these men and women.
Tom Rachman was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press stationed in Rome. A fantastic job by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s worked for the wonderful International Herald Tribune. When I lived in France in 1992, I read that paper every day of the week. It’s an absolute must read for any American living abroad.
The Imperfectionists will shock a lot of people, not American Psycho shock, but very much like the moments right after the world realized what a great book Then We Came To the End was, and to be honest, Rachman’s novel is as good as that masterpiece. There’s a moment when Abbey who has the wicked nickname, Accounts Payable, is almost convinced that the man she fired is good enough to sleep with, a moment of sorrow, and pity, hers and the readers, and then it’s gone, but you’re left wondering, and saying to yourself; “God damn this is good shit.” These individual chapters make up the life of the newspaper, and since it’s a Dial Press book, remind me of http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780385335676 by David Schickler. It’s a perfect comp, but where Schickler sticks with arrested development, Rachman reaches nearly profound levels of realism through humanity. You’ll fall in love with Ruby Zaga, or the strange Winston Cheung, each person is so close that you can feel their breath on your neck. In the end the people and the story will blow you away, it’s about a struggling International newspaper and (should be a passé thing to write about, with all this internet talk and electronic book nonsense filling up everyone’s time), it’s people; a sad dog, a rabid reader who is ten years behind on her reading of the paper, and Kathleen, oh Kathleen, she’s so good, so right on and who I think is the most serious character in the book. Shit, it’s all serious, it’s prescient, it’s talking about a medium that you and I take for granted, and I for one buried in the sand years ago as being out of touch. Rachman, in his own fluent and vivid ways shows me just how wrong I was to assume that newspapers are dead. Stop what you’re reading, call your Random House rep and get one of these ARC’s. For those of you not in the business, put it on order at your preferred online retailer.