The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (♦♦♦♦)

The lives of the journalists at an international English-language newspaper in Rome unfold before our very eyes through articles/vignettes.

The Imperfectionists consists of ten vignettes. It opens up with Lloyd's story, a journalist whose best days are long gone and hardly has enough money to pay rent. Then follows Arthur, a fifty-something year-old without much ambition who writes the obituaries, and whose father was a famous war correspondent. The third, fourth and fifth vignettes focus on relationships. First is Hardy’s, the woman who covers business at the paper and who finds herself entangled with a good-for-nothing boyfriend. Next is Herman’s, who has put his friend Jimmy on a pedestal since they were boys. Then follows Kathleen's story. Kathleen is the editor-in-chief. She has recently discovered that her husband has had an affair and feels less hurt than she should be.

Next is the story of Winston, a biology graduate student who has forsaken academia for journalism. Winston discovers that journalism is a cutthroat business with as much competition as it’s found in the animal kingdom. The following vignette is about Ruby, a thirty-something year-old who is lonely, hates her job and co-workers, and lives in constant thrill/fear of losing her job. Menzies’ story unfolds next. Craig Menzies is Kathleen’s deputy and news editor. Menzies lives with a younger woman who has abandoned her hobbies and occupations to take care of the house creating an inferiority complex accompanied by boredom. The following story is Ornella’s; Ornella is the mother of Kathleen’s ex and an assiduous reader of the newspaper. The last two stories focus one on Abbey--nicknamed “Accounts Payable”--, the woman in charge of cutting jobs at the paper, and the other on Oliver Ott, the grandson of the newspaper’s founder.

Along the lives of present day journalists and editorial staff, is the story of the newspaper founder in the late 1950s-1960 and the members of his family who inherited the paper.

The Imperfectionists is compelling, a tour-de-force writing; it grabs you and doesn't let go until the end. It’s a marvelous rendition of a world in extinction thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet. Every human emotion and feeling is perfectly cast through the lives of this ensemble. We get to see friendship, matrimony and family through various and colorful lenses. Loneliness and disgust for the lives they live are also prominent themes in the book, yet the characters feel compelled to keep everything as it is.

The Imperfectionists takes an unflinching look at relationships, personal and in the workforce. The result is neither optimistic nor pretty but real and raw nonetheless.

Favorite quotes:

“He opens the window, breathes in, presses his knees into the guardrail. The grandeur of Paris—its tallness and broadness and hardness and softness, its perfect symmetry, human will imposed on stone, on razored lawns, on the disobedient rose bushes—that Paris resides elsewhere. His own is smaller, containing himself, this window, the floorboards that creak across the hall.” Page 8

“If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.” Page 38

‘“Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man.”’ Page 49