A newspaper struggles in Tom Rachman’s “The Imperfectionists”
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman; pub date: 4/6/10; available in paperback as of 1/4/11
First-time novelist Tom Rachman has produced a worthy debut surrounding a moody, but interesting cast of characters. Holed up in the office of an international newspaper in Rome, they see only too much of each other day in and day out. However, as we learn with each narrator, they really know very little about one another. We meet a man whose life is turned upside down by the death of his daughter; a woman who doesn’t think enough of herself to break up with an unappreciative, jobless boyfriend; another woman who is stalking her boss’ ex-boyfriend; and that ex-boyfriend’s mother, who religiously reads the paper cover to cover every day even though she is years behind.
Each chapter could stand alone as a short story. The newspaper is the glue that holds them together. The Imperfectionists’s strongest suit is the unceasing set of realistic storylines that persist throughout the book, revealing bits and pieces of their respective narrators. Some threads are briefly revisited, but not every question is answered. Some things are left to the imagination, and loose ends are rarely tied up.
If I were forced to criticize this book, I would say that the Roman setting could play more of a central role, but perhaps the lack of connection to Rome is meant to emphasize the feelings of loneliness gripping the Americans who never really find their place in an unfamiliar city.
This book made my Best Books of 2010 list, and with good reason. Rachman has taken the concept of a book about the personal lives of a group of co-workers connected by the story of the evolution of the newspaper they work for, as well as its demise at the onset of the Internet age, and pulled it off seamlessly. The themes of print publishing, news, and the Internet make this novel a snapshot of a disappearing era, while the themes of the office environment, loyalty, family, and decision-making or lack thereof give it a timeless appeal.