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New Novel The Imperfectionists Gets Excellent, Unsubstantiated Review

Congratulations, Tom Rachman! Over the weekend you won the debut novelist sweepstakes by having your first novel, The Imperfectionists, a multi-threaded narrative about an English-language newspaper in Rome, raved about on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Though this does not necessarily predict future sales, it does ensure that your book will be on the popular-fiction table at Barnes & Noble for the foreseeable future. According to reviewer Christopher Buckley, the book "is so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off." Coincidentally, we had to read Buckley's 1,000 word paean twice before realizing "Sadism Hussein" is the only quote from the actual book Buckley included in his review. Though he did include lots of plot synopsis! And made mention that there is a character named Pickle! And, by the sheer force of his enthusiasm, led us to believe this may be a book we would like to read!

Curious what even one sentence of this "alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching … Rubik's Cube" of a novel might be, we decided to take a look at the book itself. Here is what we found:

Metaphor, involving kisses and grenades:


"In his cupped hands, he planted a kiss and lobbed it at her like a grenade, tracing with his eyes the parabola up and over the table, down onto her cheek. 'Direct hit,' he declared."

Metaphor, involving dagger red (which we think must be the same as "blood red"):


"Many of the buildings in central Rome were colored as if from a crayon box: dagger red, trumpet yellow, rain-cloud blue. But the paper's dour seventeenth century building seemed to have been colored with a lead pencil; it was scribble grey."

Dialogue, dry, sardonic, and newspapery:


"You folks interested in a feature on ortolan? It's this French delicacy, a bird — a sort of finch, I think — that's illegal to sell here. They stick it in a cage, poke out its eyes so it can't tell day from night, then feed it 'round the clock. When it's full up, they drown it in Cognac and cook it. Mitterrand ate one for his last meal."

"Uh-huh. But sorry, where's the news?"

"No news. Just a feature."

"You have anything else?"

Lloyd scratched at his pad again. "How about a business piece on wine: Sales of rose outstripping white for the first time in France."

"Is that true?"

"I think so. I still have to double-check."

"Do you have anything more timely?"

"You don’t want the ortolan?"


Dialogue, dry, sardonic, and not-newspapery:


"And I stole his boxers."

"Why would you take some old guy's underwear?"

"He's a kid actually. From Ireland. Has blond dreadlocks."

"Dreadlocks on a white guy? That is sad."

"I know, but he's tall, which makes it slightly less horrific. Doesn't it. I'm a total idiot, though — I ran out without leaving him my contact details.”

"Look you've got the guy's underwear — he'll turn up"

Deadpan humor:


"No one had died. Or rather 107 people have in the previous minute, 154,000 in the past day, and 1,078,000 in the past week. But no one who matters. That's good — it has been nine days since his last obit and he hopes to extend his streak."

Now, Buckley, we see what you mean.

Photo: Alessandra Rizzo