The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman (The Dial Press; $15.00; 281 pages)
Perhaps the sub-title of The Imperfectionists should have been Related Tales of Dark Humor and Irony. This is the fictional story of a second-rate international newspaper based in Rome, a poor cousin to the International Herald-Tribune. It has never had any more than 25,000 subscribers and readers, and it has no website. It is, therefore, doomed.
The Imperfectionists is not actually a novel but rather a grouping of eleven short stories concerning the wild and wooly characters who work at the rag before it enters its death spiral. One copy editor is smart enough to depart early… She finds an apparent life raft in the International Finance Department at the Milan Office of Lehman Brothers. Welcome to the Titanic!
This may give you a bit of insight into author Rachman’s wicked sense of humor. Rachman could likely write about anything – even a crew of sanitation workers – and make it sound interesting and engaging.
“You can’t dread what you can’t experience.”
The reporters and allied staff members at the nearly defunct paper truly dread – like they fear their own deaths – its inevitable closing, but they take some comfort in the fact that their pink slips mean they won’t actually experience the lights being turned off for the final time.
One of the opaque characters is a copy editor who simply pretends to hate her job because she loves it too much. “I get to stay…” she thinks as she avoids a round of lay-offs, while grousing that she wishes they had let her go. Then there’s the veteran war reporter who is completely nuts but quite successful (like the one my wife and I had drinks with once). These gruff and nicked guys are far more interested in telling their literal war stories than in observing anyone’s reaction to them… They’re a bit like wild animals whose press badge serves as their “If lost, return to —” tag.
The paper in question is owned by Oliver Ott, a man who inherited the paper and who is – quite naturally – completely clueless as to its operations.
“The paper – that daily report on the idocy and the brilliance of the species – had never before missed an appointment. Now it was gone.”
Arthur Gopal, the often-pitied obituary writer, survives to find a plum job as a top reporter in Manhattan, while the publication he so carefully wrote for expires (“Overnight, the paper disappeared from newsstands…”) without the benefit of a beautifully written send-off. Such is life.
The Imperfectionists would be virtually perfect but for an abrupt, flawed and somewhat frustrating ending. Be forewarned. Still, this is well recommended.
This book was purchased by the reviewer at Lyon Books in Chico, California.