Customer Reviews for

The Imperfectionists

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

Compelling Ensemble

WKRP in Cincinnati. It was a sitcom in the early 80s, I think? Without disparaging this work of literary fiction, I was somewhat reminded of that goofy little show. It was set in a radio station, but made memorable by the collective weirdness of every character in th...
WKRP in Cincinnati. It was a sitcom in the early 80s, I think? Without disparaging this work of literary fiction, I was somewhat reminded of that goofy little show. It was set in a radio station, but made memorable by the collective weirdness of every character in the ensemble cast. Each episode seemed to focus on one person's problem, usually humorous, and filled out with the other characters who rotated in significance per the episode.


In The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, there is a similar layout to the novel. Instead of a radio station, it's a daily newspaper in Rome, with mostly expats running the show. Often funny, sometimes bleak, the book moves along and introduces you to each character separately then shows them as part of the whole. No sight gags or corny humor like in WKRP, but a feeling of tolerable camaraderie between people thrown together and not especially liking it.

Richman doesn't use any cliches: there's no "Devil Wears Prada" evil boss, and even the most insignificant of copy editors has a life outside the newsroom that is a story in itself. That's why the novel is so fascinating. Without one single main protagonist, much more is in play that makes the story move. There's the obnoxious Snyder, who constantly travels to different war zones seeking a story, but remains oblivious to human tragedy. He decides that knowing different languages interferes with his objectivity, so all sources must speak English. Business editor Hardy, an intelligent female reporter who is so desperate for a companion that she finds a relationship with the loser Rory who robbed her apartment. Lloyd, who has no relationship with any of his children, and really nothing in his life of value, resorts to falsifying stories just to make a little money. And Dave, who enacts the perfect revenge on the accountant who fired him. Then there's the spell-check program that renames an important historical character "Sadism Hussein."

Finally, there's the love letter Ott wrote, never seen by his beloved: "I built and I built-heaven knows that I have done that well. Those skyscrapers, full of tenants, floor after floor, and not a single room containing you."

In all, Rachman creates these characters amid the underlying theme of a newspaper trying to make money in the age of the Internet. He contrasts the tactile importance a newspaper used to have with the overload of information online that can't even be grasped. Instead of lecturing about this relevant information, he shows how the newspaper changes in content over three generations of owners-the Ott family. This is a fun read, full of laughs but tender and meaningful too.

posted by SAHARATEA on August 23, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

14 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

Highly NOT recommended--don't check it out (unless from a library)

Absolutely hated this book. Hated every moment I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I hadn't fully decided that I hated it until I was about half way thru so I decided I may as well finish it. The writing was okay; it was well-written, competent. What I disliked about the...
Absolutely hated this book. Hated every moment I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I hadn't fully decided that I hated it until I was about half way thru so I decided I may as well finish it. The writing was okay; it was well-written, competent. What I disliked about the book was the format--each character has a separate chapter and all characters are connected by their having worked at the newspaper in Rome (which I don't think is ever given a name). Although I wasn't crazy about that format, it could have worked for me if not for the fact that every chapter followed basically the same format: every character is revealed in his/her personal life to be (almost always) a pathetic, disagreeable, unlikeable, unsympathetic person. Without fail. And while this person is revealed to have the most amazing character flaws, the "shock" ending or final reveal is always in the last few paragraphs. It was so formulaic that I came to expect this pattern: a) the character being focused on each chapter is probably some kind of jerk or pathetic loser and his/her flaw will be revealed in less than four pages, b)the last one or two paragraphs will reveal a final twist or revelation that you probably shouldn't see coming (although if you have half a brain and pay attention to the book, you should really expect it), and c)every revelation/twist is going to be something bad. I just hated this book. I don't see how writing a book that explores (in almost every chapter) the character flaws of these characters and is negative throughout makes this book "spectacular," "magnificent," or "beguiling." These are one-word reviews quoted on the cover of the paperback copy of this book I unfortunately spent my money on. This book is not all that interesting, the people are not so fascinating because Rachman doesn't give the reader enough time to know the characters--we just get brief, mostly disagreeable slices of their lives. Perhaps you have to be a journalist or be connected with the newspaper business in some way to enjoy and appreciate this book. I absolutely hated it and don't recommend it to anyone.

posted by KrisPA on February 6, 2011

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  • Posted February 6, 2011

    Highly NOT recommended--don't check it out (unless from a library)

    Absolutely hated this book. Hated every moment I spent reading it. Unfortunately, I hadn't fully decided that I hated it until I was about half way thru so I decided I may as well finish it. The writing was okay; it was well-written, competent. What I disliked about the book was the format--each character has a separate chapter and all characters are connected by their having worked at the newspaper in Rome (which I don't think is ever given a name). Although I wasn't crazy about that format, it could have worked for me if not for the fact that every chapter followed basically the same format: every character is revealed in his/her personal life to be (almost always) a pathetic, disagreeable, unlikeable, unsympathetic person. Without fail. And while this person is revealed to have the most amazing character flaws, the "shock" ending or final reveal is always in the last few paragraphs. It was so formulaic that I came to expect this pattern: a) the character being focused on each chapter is probably some kind of jerk or pathetic loser and his/her flaw will be revealed in less than four pages, b)the last one or two paragraphs will reveal a final twist or revelation that you probably shouldn't see coming (although if you have half a brain and pay attention to the book, you should really expect it), and c)every revelation/twist is going to be something bad. I just hated this book. I don't see how writing a book that explores (in almost every chapter) the character flaws of these characters and is negative throughout makes this book "spectacular," "magnificent," or "beguiling." These are one-word reviews quoted on the cover of the paperback copy of this book I unfortunately spent my money on. This book is not all that interesting, the people are not so fascinating because Rachman doesn't give the reader enough time to know the characters--we just get brief, mostly disagreeable slices of their lives. Perhaps you have to be a journalist or be connected with the newspaper business in some way to enjoy and appreciate this book. I absolutely hated it and don't recommend it to anyone.

    14 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Do not waste you time.

    Boring to read. Our book club decided it was a dud.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2011

    Well-written, but not for me

    Life is heavy enough that when I turn to fiction, I am searching for entertainment, a reprieve. This book is most definitely not that. While I understand that Rachman was trying to generate sympathy for the characters in the reader, I found this book very hard to enjoy as there is no redemption of any kind for any of the characters. Furthermore, like the other reviewer, I found the last scene shocking and entirely unnecessary. I don't think I'll be recommending this book to anyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

    Not recommended

    What am I missing? This book had rave reviews and I find it boring and lacking in "beguilness"!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2013

    Plot moved along until the final pages: the ending is a totally

    Plot moved along until the final pages: the ending is a totally gratuitous washout, an unnecessarily cruel kick in the stomach to any loyal reader.

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  • Posted February 17, 2013

    I agree with KrisPA, this book is well written, but every chapte

    I agree with KrisPA, this book is well written, but every chapter follows the same formula for each character.  I hated this book because I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever does except that the characters are miserable and they each find a way to screw another one over. It might have even worked as specific personalities dissected under a microscope, but all the personalities were the same.  If interested, get it from the library.  Otherwise it is a total waste of money.  

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  • Posted June 27, 2011

    Almost done...

    Is the torture over... not liking the book at all. But i need to finish it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2011

    Unbelievably BORING!

    I had this book on my list to read based on the reviews and I guess I don't get the good reviews. I could have gone to each of my neighbors, asked them about their life over the last week and written a chapter on each of them. Meaningless story in the end. It went nowhere. I certainly would not recommend this book and after this review, I will forget all about it.

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