By NATALIE TSAY
Because of its beautiful cover, I’ve wanted to read The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman for quite some time. I know what they say about that, but don’t we all know deep down that good cover art is essential to a book’s appeal? While The New York Times Book Review named it a Notable Book of the Year, most of the blurbs are pretty generic and its Goodreads profile didn’t have unanimous raves. I was unsure of what to expect when I started reading, but maybe that was what made it such a pleasant surprise.
Though it’s technically a novel, The Imperfectionists is really a collection of connected short stories; 11 characters each have their own chapters. Everyone is in some way related to an international newspaper in Rome that is barely managing to stay afloat amidst the technological advances of the new century. As an aspiring writer and people-watching enthusiast, I absolutely love getting glimpses into others’ lives, and that’s exactly what The Imperfectionists gives you. It’s definitely not a plot-centric novel. While it moves chronologically, the focus is really on the characters who, while dedicated to producing a near-perfect paper, lead personal lives that aren’t so neat (hence, imperfectionists), and their chapter shows them each at a turning point. Nothing is ever really resolved, but the end gives you an “update” on how everybody’s story continues.
If I haven’t already made this clear, the characters are hands-down the novel’s best assets. Every single one is quirky and realistically rendered, and their chapters show them at their most vulnerable. Whether it’s the sexually overpowering Editor-In-Chief or the gravely underrated obituary writer, every character deals with tribulations, some better than others. Each chapter is distinct from one another and is written so that it’s easy to immediately relate to the character at hand. Most of them reappear in at least one later chapter tangentially, and this makes the novel feel truer to real life because as narcissistic as it may sound, everyone is the center of his/her own universe.
While no character’s story is thoroughly resolved at the end, I was satisfied by the time I finished reading. Usually, I like a clear-cut conclusion — no loose ends. However, life is a process that constantly moves forward and is almost never neat and tidy. The Imperfectionists reflects on that fact by revealing just a brief window of time in 11 peoples’ lives. I’m not saying we live without happy endings, I’m just saying they’re never really the end. There’s always more to come and at the end of The Imperfectionists; you’re left knowing that each character has more ahead. What that “more” might be is left to the imagination.