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ISBN ### Liberal Biliogasm

At first you may assume it's a Stuff White People Like laundry list, but it's actually the debut novel of Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists

To wit:
  • American expats living in Europe
  • Newspapers, like, the kind actually printed on paper
  • Lamenting the decline of said paper news sources
  • Character-driven vignettes with an indie sensibility
  • NPR fawning all over it
  • Malcom Gladwell and the author verbally masterbating each other on a litany of luddite topics in a bonus Reader's Guide

Beyond the liberal bibliogasm that is the content, the construction of the novel is genius. It flashes between present day (more or less) Rome and historical vignettes describing the creation of an American-language daily. About three chapters in you start to notice the weaving of characters and stories, backward and forward, backward and forward. It's done so well and so subtly that I enjoyed it almost like a mystery novel. It was exciting to anticipate and figure out the way the past and present would dovetail. 

The writing is evocative and reads like a painting, if you could read a painting. For instance:

He opens the window, breathes in, presses his knees into the guardrail. The grandeur of Paris - it's tallness and broadness and hardness and softness, it's perfect symmetry, human will imposed on stone, on razored lawns, on the disobedient rosebushes - that Paris resides elsewhere. His own is smaller, containing himself, this window, the floorboards that creak across the hall.

The character development is deep, complex, and exceptional. What really sticks with me, looking back on the book as a whole, is how genius Rachman is conveying human nature. Embarrassing, voyeuristic, intuitive, brilliant - his ability to develop multi-dimensional characters is annoying it's so skilled. 

"You're amazingly self-sustainedd," he says. "I'm just afraid you'll get sick of me. Of my socks in particular." "There is that possibility. As long as nobody sees me cooking you dinner every night, I'm fine." At least this life takes place overseas. She can point out that she's learning another language and that Rome is such an artistic city and that living here is itself an aesthetic education. When she does return to photography, this experience will have had a salutary effect. If she were tending house like this back in D.C. - well, she simply wouldn't. But living overseas changes the rules. As long as no one sees her. She discourages visits from friends and family, and flies home twicd a year to avert them. After all those efforts to instill the importance of financial independence and a career. Or if Annika's art-school friends saw her Nikon sitting there, its case gray with dust, as her cookbook collection mounts - the domesticated horror of it!

The humor is wry and dry, adding to the 'if you get it you get it' vibe of the book:

His ear twitches at the incessant ringing downstairs. It's after midnight. "Can they not leave me alone?" From the answering machine comes the drone of this eldest brother, Vaughn, calling from Atlanta. Presumably to ask if Oliver has an Italian girlfriend yet. The family fears he is gay. They don't like gays. Or Communists. What about art historians? Same difference. He's not, though. Not what? An art historian. 

It reads quickly and is a beach book you don't have to be ashamed of. Go for it. 


ISBN 978-0-358-34367-1

Photo Series: Great Salt Lake Marina

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