The Imperfectionists: A Novel
The Dial Press, 2010
288 pp., $25.00
Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists is as good as everyone says it is. The novel is set in and around the offices of an international newspaper in Rome, and each chapter focuses on one character: a copy editor, a reader, the publisher, and so on. Rachman's portraits are funny, delightful; but the emotional lives of the characters are rendered so transparent that it the novel is, in its way, painful to read. Partway through the opening chapter's depiction of a journalist, broke, past his prime, I had to stop, put the book down, breathe, walk around the room, and then come back, a few minutes later, for another dose of the abject reporter's desperation.
Many of the chapters—for instance, the snapshot of a one-night-stand-in-the-making between the HR director and an editor she just sacked—lay bare something awful about love. (The book is loaded with episodes of infidelity.) And running throughout all the terribly human portraits is the story of the newspaper itself, of its decline and fall—it folds by the end of the novel. The conclusion isn't heavy-handed, but the moral is there, starkly spelled out on the very last page: "The paper—that daily report on the idiocy and the brilliance of the species—had never before missed an appointment. Now it was gone." One closes The Imperfectionists wishing we would take better care of our newspapers, but thankful that, if they go, we will at least have Rachman to chronicle the idiocy and the brilliance of the species.
Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.
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