@@@ (3 out of 5)
Throughout this peculiar novel, I found myself wondering “What’s the point?” When I finished reading it, I realized that question was the point.
A former reporter in Paris for the International Herald Tribune, Tom Rachman created a thinly disguised analog of that paper and placed it in Rome staffed exclusively by American ex-pats. However, I suspect that the publisher, editors, and staff of the IHT would take umbrage at the uniform pattern of neuroses, inadequacies, and generally annoying behavior of the characters in The Imperfectionists. I wonder if his former colleagues are still speaking to Rachman.
“The paper,” unnamed in the novel, is founded in the 1950s by a wealthy industrialist who hires his lover and her husband, and moves with them to Rome to run the paper, leaving his family behind in Atlanta. The whole gambit is suspicious from the start, and of course it is: nobody in The Imperfectionists seems to possess admirable motives even in the best of times.
This book, which is labeled a novel and seems to be accepted as such by most reviewers, is essentially a string of short stories about the people connected to the paper and, in many cases, to one another. It’s also a colorful picture of the declining fortunes of the newspaper industry over the past half-century, and that, to me, is its greatest strength.
English eccentrics have nothing on the characters in The Imperfectionists. From the young latter-day publisher who talks only to his dog, to the lowly staffer whose only ambition in life is to loaf on the job, to the impossibly incompetent would-be stringer in Cairo, these people are hard to take. From time to time I wondered whether this was all supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.