As The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman begins we are immersed into the ongoings of an English newspaper in Rome. The newspaper was started by a wealthy Atlanta-based billionaire, Cyrus Ott, who has hopes of changing the lives of many, primarily his old lover. The novel alternates between heart breaking tales of defeat to laughter. Continuing its thread of individuality each character has an opportunity to tell their stories and express their feelings, from a freelance writer, Lloyd Burko –who cannot admit he has lost his touch-to Oliver Ott- who is lost in the journalism world.
While each story is presented as its own entity we see that the individuals are more closely linked then we presume. One common thread throughout this novel is the realization that each of these characters is escaping something, running away from their fears and ambitions. In between each story we are presented with a continuous threaded description about the start of the newspaper and the lives of its founders. This is not to say that the novel is confusing to understand or even comprehend… actually it is the exact opposite. Rachman appropriately presents each character and how they affect the paper yet at the same time he intertwines information about others around them.
One of the most interesting stories is of an up and coming journalist, Winston Cheung, well at least he thinks that he is until he’s confronted with the world around him. Winston is incapable of realizing the ferocity and ambition of the other reporters until he meets the fast talking reporter, Rich Snyder, with hopes of entering Iraq. Suddenly Winston realizes his mistakes and retreats back to his primates where he not only finds solace but protection.
Remember your annoying English teacher, who was obsessed with grammar and improper usage of words and would berate you for every spelling mistake? Well he pales in comparison to Herman Cohen the corrections editor. With every mistake in the newspaper he berates the journalists and compiles his ever growing log of complaints in “The Bible.” What about the mindless idiots he is forced to work with other copy editors who constantly ignore errors? None is worse than Ruby Zaga.
* GWOT: No one knows what this means, above all those who use the term. Nominally, it stands for Global War on Terror. But since conflict against an abstraction is, to be polite, tough to execute, the term should be understood as marketing gibberish. Our reporters adore this sort of humbug; it is the copy editor’s job to exclude it. See also: OBL; Acronyms; and Nitwits.
He hits save. It is entry No. 18,238. “The Bible” — his name for the paper’s style guide — was once printed and bound, with a copy planted on every desk across the newsroom.
In an effort to ignore her mundane Queens life Ruby migrates to the great city of Rome to intern for the newspaper, yet she lacks the ambition of those around her. Starting her internship at the same time as ambitious and calculating Kathleen Solson,-present day editor in chief- the two attempt to break into the world of journalism. While Ruby is dedicated to this newspaper and stays on as copy editor, Kathleen soars. Kathleen not only gains a position as a news reporter, but quickly falls in love with an Italian man, Dario, who bows to her every desire. Yet Ruby wanted him as well although she wouldn’t admit it; she secretly coats her hands in his cologne each night to breathe him in. As Kathleen gets a Washington job, Ruby stays in Italy as a lonely American. To enhance her fantasies even more she rents a room at a posh hotel every New Year’s Eve and stuffs her face with mini bar food. When Kathleen returns to the newspaper six years later as editor and has become everything Ruby wants. Yet she has a secret she kissed Dario and now calls him constantly just to listen to the sounds of his voice.
As a reader we root for of each of these characters, each a little nerdy, and each losers in their own right. The novel is rife with amazing characters to say the least, each growing and progressing together. When describing a newsroom Rachman was able to infuse devotion and trust between the characters, maybe a little resentment too. Rachman has an amazing ability to get his audience involved in each characters life, we yearn for Italian men and hope against the demise of the newspaper.
The novel ends in great defeat not only have the characters been swallowed up into this newspaper but they dedicated themselves to a menial newspaper as a way of ignoring their ambitious. In the final scenes we see Oliver Ott – who was charged with publishing the newspaper- and his dog Schopenhauer wandering an old house searching for something. Oliver is the epitome of his employees, each searching for more yet afraid to reach for it or express their dreams. With every new vignette we learn about the newspaper and the world around them.
Tom Rachman paints a wonderful and endearing portrait of a newspaper and its journalists. Rachman’s language is not only descriptive but appropriate, his dialogue is superfluous and helpful, and his dramatization of the newspaper is amazing. His writing reflects that of his characters in short yet meaningful sentences. This novel is more than intriguing, its thought provoking and expansive. With this amazingly driven novel The Imperfectionists should appear on Page One of every newspaper.
Book Club Questions:
1. Do you believe that each character is stuck with the status quo? When we see a character such as Rich Snyder we see an over ambitious and triving individual. Yet in comparison to his counterparts they are stuck not searching or yearning for more.
2. With the introduction of every new character we are presented with an article they are writing. How does the article connect with the its character or other characters?
3. I personally believe that the author Tom Rachman did an amazing job developing his characters. Who did you connect with most? Sympthesize with? Pity? Dislike?
4. Did you find the story of the Ott family obtrusive or helpful? Why?
5. Why do you think the novel is call The Imperfectionists ?
The Imperfectionists is available on Amazon
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