The Imperfectionists

Monday, August 27, 2012

by Tom Rachman

Going into this one I didn’t realize it was a string of interconnected short stories. Using this style we’re introduced to a dozen staff members of an English-language newspaper in Rome, but the real main character of the book is the paper itself.

In between each of the modern-day vignettes are glimpses into the history of the newspaper, beginning with its founding in 1954 by a rich man named Cyrus Ott. He hires a married couple, Betty and Leo, to run the paper. For decades the Ott family continues to fund the paper, even when it is struggling.

The rest of the stories follow individuals who currently work at the paper. There’s the Editor-in-Chief, Kathleen, a business-minded woman whose husband might be having an affair. There’s Lloyd, a washed-up reporter living in Paris, who is desperate for a story. Another employee, Arthur, suffers a tragedy but ends up with a promotion. Herman, a 30-year vet at the paper, spends time with an old friend. He’s able to see his own life from a new perspective when he realizes how much they’ve grown apart.

A few of the stories, notably those featuring Hardy, Abbey, Ruby and especially Winston made me cringe. They’re written so well, but I hate situations where people are blatantly taking advantage of others. Despite that aspect, the characters feel real and the style reminds me of some of Maeve Binchy’s short story collections. They aren’t uplifting, but they are realistic.

I think the main reason I enjoyed this one is because I could identify with the newspaper aspects of the book. I could recognize the personalities of so many of the employees. I remember being a reporter at a paper that was on its last leg. I remember the discussions about how the internet was effecting the publishing world. It was always a struggle and it’s the story of the newspaper that rang true for me and made the collection work.

Try it if you love books set in foreign countries, love interwoven short story collections or have a deep love of journalism.

“The only death we experience is that of other people. That’s as bad as it gets. And that’s bad enough, surely.”

“Nothing epitomizes the futility of human striving quite life aspartame.”

“But this is how he is: easygoing, which means tough-going for everyone else.”

Photo by moi (bookmark from Rome)


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Hmmm...I do have this one and had no idea it was interconnected stories. Maybe this winter?? Thanks for the nice review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I like most books that are collections of interconnecting stories. I just didn't realize that this was one of them. I get it confused with The Informationist.

Donna said...

I had about the same reaction as you to this book. I liked the story about the newspaper better than the stories about the people.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Diane - I don't know how I missed that when I read other peoples' reviews, but it changed the whole tone of the book for me.

Sandy - It was a fun way to do it!

Donna - Isn't that funny! It's not often the inanimate object surpasses the characters!

B said...

I've had this one sitting on my TBR for about 6 months now and every time I think about picking it up I go for something else. I've heard great things about it so I'm not sure why I haven't gotten to it yet.

I'm glad you enjoyed it even though it was quite what you expected.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brenna - Sometimes it's nice to be surprised by a book!

Karen said...

I'm usually a bit wary of stories involving newspapers because often they just don't capture the reality of life for journalists. And by that I mean that many days are very routine - the novels always give the impression that every day involves chasing up a murder story or a political scandal.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Karen - Ha, I know exactly what you mean! It's always the job they give the "brainy" girl in chick flicks (that or a womens magazine). I felt like this book is much more realistic.

Care said...

I really enjoyed this book. It had all the elements - comedy, tragedy, love & loss...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Care - The stories were really diverse. I liked some more than others, but you're right it has a bit of everything!

Jenners said...

I sometimes enjoy the whole interconnected short story device and the "tie that binds" in this one seems good.