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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 August 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Don't understand the hype

    When I first read the synopsis for this book I thought it sounded so interesting. Not only did I think the book sounded fun, but the rave reviews I read about this book further intrigued me.

    When I began reading the book, I was a bit confused. I thought it jumped into the middle of the story. I quickly learned that the first chapter was about an older freelance reporter who was quickly losing his reputation and work. Then we moved onto the next chapter and it was someone else.

    This book is told kind of in a series of short stories. Each chapter is about a different character, though sometimes a previous or subsequent character is mentioned in other chapters. In between each chapter, the reader is taken into the past to learn of the history behind the newspaper and its founder. These in between chapters start at the beginning of the paper and continue up to the present.

    Each chapter, or vignette, became increasingly more interesting. Some of them even left me at a cliffhanger. At one point, I wanted so desperately to find out what happened to that particular character (Hardy) that I looked to the Table of Contents to find out when I would learn more of her story. Come to find out that's all she got. One chapter! So I held out hope that things would be wrapped up nicely at the end of the book and we would find out what happened to all of these people and the stories I had learned.

    Unfortunately, things with this book just kept getting worse and worse. The stories of these people's lives kept getting more depressing. The paper just kept losing more and more money. And my hope for a happy ending kept diminishing.

    When I did finally finish the book, I was pretty annoyed. There was no wrap up. I never found out what happened to Hardy or any of the other crazy things that happened with these people. Each story did intrigue me and get me interested in the character's lives...but then I was left out in the cold. I only got partial stories. There was a small wrap up at the end of the book, but nowhere near what I wanted.

    At this point, I don't see the point of this book. I have no idea why the reviews are so awesome for this novel or the author. Sure, his writing style is good and the character development is good...but what's the point in getting invested in someone, just to have the door slammed in your face without finding out how things work out?

    All in all, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who likes things tied up neatly at the end. You won't get that with this book. Actually, I'm not really sure I would recommend this book to anyone at all. I'm beyond annoyed and feel as though I wasted my time and money on this book.

    However, if anyone has read and enjoyed this book, I would love to know what I'm missing...because I just don't see the point. I gained nothing from this reading experience and that makes me sad.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2012

    It was okay...not my favorite but had its moments

    There were some great stories within the book but I felt a bit disaapointed in how the author would abandon each mini story and move on to the next one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012

    Painful to read.

    The book is well written. The author fully develops his character into a passive distructive force. The paper takes a variety of people who are portrayed as worthless and removes any sense of hope or value from their lives and leaves them in darkness and loneliness. This is a bleak story that only goes down hill. A great story if your weekend plans involve a full blown drinking binge alone.

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