Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BookLook June 24 "The Imperfectionists"

“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman is a novel for those of us who appreciate newspapers in this day of digital dominance. We are the people who like to turn the page with a soft rustle. It makes us laugh to read a misspelled word that turns into a malapropism as it slips past a proofreader relying on Spellcheck. We enjoy the individual style and personality of each columnist and article author. We want to read something that took time to research and write and not just listen to the hasty opinions attached to the nightly news performances on T.V.
The cast of characters in Rachman’s debut novel is made up of memorable misfits connected to each other by a dying newspaper. Ten chapters, ten employees, and a back-story to explain the history of its founding by a wealthy American in 1953. The paper is an English language daily in Rome, which is about to be closed down since the corporate office in America cannot see any profitability in continuing to publish thirty-five years later.
Each chapter title is assigned a headline. “World’s Oldest Liar dies at 126” tells the story of the obituary writer, Arthur Gopal. Arthur has a boss he describes as “a resentful Alabamian with a toilet-brush mustache and an inability to maintain eye contact.” Arthur muses, “If history has taught us anything, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.” As the obituary writer Arthur ‘s goal is indolence, “to publish as infrequently as possible and to sneak away when no one is looking. He is realizing these professional ambitions spectacularly.”
Slipped in between chapters eight and ten we find the story of a reader of the paper instead of an employee. Ornella De Monterecchi is a widow who is slowly working her way through every page of the paper. Since it takes her several days for each daily edition, she is hopelessly behind reading the news of 1994 in 2007. “These are her today headlines…””Mandela Set to Win South Africa Elections”, “Cold War Over, Hot War Begins.”
It’s not necessary to be a newspaper fan to enjoy “The Imperfectionists”. The short story in every chapter style is brilliant for a book about a newspaper where long embellished descriptions cannot be printed. This original novel by a former foreign correspondent for the Associated Press makes us regret canceling our newspaper subscription and validates the small cost of supporting journalism with all it’s imperfections.

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