I hope everyone is enjoying The Imperfectionists. Thanks for reading along with me. I’m so excited to hear your thoughts.
A quarter of the way in, I’m ready to classify the book as a pleasure read. Rachman can really write, and his characters jump off the page. So far, I can vividly imagine just about all of them—Lloyd Burko, Arthur Gopal, Hardy Benjamin. I can’t wait to meet the rest of paper’s staff.
I started the book worried that the subject matter would be dry or political. (Reading about Islamic extremists and George Bush can be interesting, but it’s not what I’d call bedtime reading.) So I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the stories are only tangentially tied to the chapter headings: The Imperfectionists is all about human neurosis, emotion, and behavior. It’s interesting that—so far, at least—none of the characters seems particularly passionate about current events. That’s always been the stereotype of a journalist: Someone who lives and breathes for breaking news. And yet here we have a man trying to pay his rent, a reporter determined to move up the ranks for prestige, and a finance reporter preoccupied with her appearance. (When I read that Hardy covered her face to avoid looking at her own reflection, my heart broke a little.) Did you expect hard news to play a bigger part in these characters’ stories? What did you think of Rachman’s use of newspaper headlines as chapter titles? Did you find it deceptive, or telling?
I’m also interested in Rachman’s tendency to quickly pass over the sadness in his characters’ lives. Eileen’s affair with the neighbor, the tragic loss of Pickle, and the stolen (and then found) Rubik’s Cube are major moments that garner very little explanation in the book. The characters don’t linger over their losses—they push them down. How long, I wonder, can Lloyd, Arthur, and Hardy let their wounds fester before their grief overwhelms them? Their denial is particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that journalists must encounter tragedy on a daily basis in order to report the news. (Arthur Gopal, after all, is an obituary writer. A job can’t get much more maudlin than that.) Is it just a coincidence that all three characters have failed to come to terms with the tragedy in their own lives? Do you think their denial is tied to life in the newsroom and the hardened demeanor their industry requires?
Finally, before we all dig into the next chunk of text, I wanted to bring up the format of the book. Have any of you read Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad? It’s another recent best seller that dedicates each chapter to a different character. In Egan’s work, the chapters are intricately woven together, with characters appearing over and over again, at different times in their lives. But here, the connections between the chapters aren’t as clear. I feel a little flutter of excitement when a character from one chapter comes up in the next, but so far, I don’t quite see the relevance. Perhaps Rachman is trying to show us just how little we know about the people with whom we work. Or maybe he has another goal in mind. Do you think these stories will ultimately tie together in a big, important way? Are you enjoying the short-story format?
Share your thoughts below, and keep on reading! See you at the halfway mark.