Monday, July 18, 2011

"The Imperfectionists" Seems Close to Perfect to Me

I spent the last week reading Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists, one of the books on my list of books to read in 2011.  What a treat!

I chose it because it's a book of linked short stories, which is a form which fascinates me.  Each short story could stand on its own, but taken together, it gives us an amazing portrait of a workplace and a chunk of history.

Each story is told from the perspective of someone who's working on an English language newspaper that's based in Italy.  In between each story, we get an even shorter bit that shows us the birth of the paper and its lifespan from the point of view of the patriarch who founded it and his family.  The whole book works as an interlocking creation that begs me to reread it.

Each story gives us a pitch-perfect presentation of a character, and most of the stories have an interesting twist near the end.  As we move through the book, we've met the characters tangentially in other stories, so each story takes on additional nuance.

It works as a novel, too, for those of you who refuse to read short stories.  And for those of us with less time, I suspect it would work if you just read a story or two--but it's much more powerful when read as a whole.

And for those of us who wonder how we can tackle the linked short story form, here's a way in.  Choose a workplace and give each person who works there a short story of his or her own.

Of course, the trick will be to make each character distinctive.  And Rachman pulls that off in ways that make me both envious (why can't I do that???!!!) and appreciative.

So, if Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad made you want to read more linked short stories that work together as a novel, pick up The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  It's not your traditional fluffy summer read, but by now, you may be yearning for something with more structure and oomph.  If so, Tom Rachman should be on your list.

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