The Rise and Fall of Great Powers
In his dazzling 2010 debut, The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman dissected the decline of print journalism through the prism of a beleaguered newspaper, with each chapter focusing on a different staffer. Though his second novel is just as structurally inventive, the narrative sags with too many good ideas.
Tooly Zylberberg’s life story comes in three segments: as a child in the ’80s, as a young woman in Manhattan in the ’90s, and as the hard-drinking owner of a Welsh bookstore in 2011. Rachman braids the timelines together, and as a reader, you see Tooly’s upbringing the way she does: confusing and shrouded in mystery. The constants in Tooly’s childhood are unreliable parental figures such as an elderly Russian book collector and a magnetic con man. In her memory, these people loom large, but when she revisits them as an adult to make sense of her past, the outcome is heartbreaking. There’s no denying Rachman’s gift for juggling complex story lines and characters. But while Imperfectionists was lean and incisive, Rise & Fall feels sluggish and bloated. B