With its bold, eye-catching cover, The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman promises a novel equally as bold and dynamic, one full of life and color. The story follows Pinch, the son of the famous Life-Still artist Bear Bavinsky, as he grows from a child into an old man, all the while yearning to discover himself not just as Bear Bavinsky’s son, but as an artist and a man in his own right.
Unfortunately, as we follow Pinch through a life characterized by dissatisfaction, inadequacy, and daddy issues, we see Rachman break what was so promised by the book’s incredible cover. With its choppy storyline, lackluster characters, and wholly unnatural dialogue, The Italian Teacher ultimately falls short. While it manages to be an easy, somewhat enjoyable read, it fails to elevate its individual components into something larger.
A great novel is a mirror: it allows for reflection, relatability, a sense of familiarity. An average novel is a window: it permits vision, but nothing more. Reading The Italian Teacher is akin to looking through a window. Rachman’s novel allowed me to watch Pinch as he developed from an eager-to-please child into a still all-too-eager-to-please man; it allowed me to watch as Pinch navigated life in the shadow of his famous artist/father Bear Bavinsky, never quite amounting to what he’d so hoped.
But despite all of the watching the novel allows, it never managed to ignite in me a sense of empathy or relatability. Rarely did I smile for Pinch’s wins, nor did I cry for his ample sorrows. Rachman’s characters drew no feeling from me – they lacked that certain something that makes their sorrows my sorrows and their happiness mine.
Despite the flat characters, The Italian Teacher nonetheless has an interesting premise. In combining the dynamic world of art with the turmoils of life, the ideas on display are chock-full of potential that remain unfilled in its actualization. Rachman’s novel is adequately written, but it nonetheless lacks the spark that such an interesting premise deserves.