Recap: In a dying profession, only the strongest survive, but the weaklings still manage to squeak by. The Imperfectionists tells the intertwining stories of 10 newspaper employees and one very dedicated reader. They’re American transplants, reporting (and reading) the news overseas in Rome for an international paper. And as boring as some may find newspapers to be, the lives of those who produce them are far from it.
The novel, which smartly connects a series of short stories within each chapter, gives the reader an inside look at the life of a newspaper reporter: from the daily trials and tribulations of meeting deadlines to finding creative ways of writing a headline you’ve written a thousand times and dealing with curmudgeonly co-workers. At the end of each character-focused chapter is an italicized bit that tells the history of the paper up to the present-day; telling a subplot which ultimately becomes the main focus.
But this is by no means a story just about journalism. With each chapter, we get a glimpse into the lives of the paper’s employees — reporters, editors, and publishers. Most have sad stories to tell about lost love, crushed dreams, and a long life of misery. But they all have surprising twist endings, endings that will make you laugh, cry, and think about your own life.
Analysis: The best way to describe The Imperfectionists is that it’s like the Crash or Love Actually in literature form. Tom Rachman brilliantly weaves each character together from chapter to chapter. Some are friends. Some are co-workers. Some are former roommates. But they’re all connected in their literary world. And rather than telling one broad story, which could have been boring, Rachman gives each character their own chapter — their own 15 minutes of fame for their story to be heard. It really does feel like a book of short stories….but then it’s not, and that’s what makes it so smart.
As mentioned above, most of the characters’ stories are sad; hence the title The Imperfectionists. Most journalists are perfectionists. Every fact must be checked. Every sentence must make sense. Every page must be perfectly laid out. This novel shows how these people are perfectionists in their work, but not in their lives.
I may partial to the journalism focus of the novel because after all, I’m a journalist in “real life.” But the overall arc of the novel is a statement on what is happening to newspapers worldwide. Sadly, it’s a dying industry. Budget cuts and the move to online media are forcing papers to shut down, and Rachman explores that issue with The Imperfectionists.
MVP: Rich Snyder. Easily the most unlikable character in the novel, he’s also the most fun to read about. His role sticks mostly to one character’s story. But his attitude is completely ridiculous. He’s a 40+ man who reports as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. He knows how to do his job — and do it well — but not without a complete “frat boy” attitude, one that had me laughing out loud. Quote of note: “Dude, let’s commit some journalism.”