The Imperfectionists (2010)

by Tom Rachman

Itís not unusual for a fiction writer to tie a number of short stories together with a common thread and call the result a novel. Thatís the structure of the Imperfectionists, a journalistís rendering of the declining industry through 11 stories about the staffers and one reader of an unnamed English-language newspaper in Rome. Interspersed with the chapters about the present-day people are short narratives about the five-decade history of the paper and the Ott family that owns it.

Author Tom Rachman has the experience to know whatís happening to print journalism. He was a correspondent and editor for the International Herald Tribune in Rome, which explains why he based the fictional newspaper there, although Rome hardly figures in the stories. The paper is in a nosedive, losing circulation and money, and it doesnít even have the one essential to survive in the early 21st century: a website. The characters, well-drawn but sad, are portrayed with sympathy and wit, saving the book from being depressing. Especially amusing is Oliver Ott, grandson of the founder, who has no interest in the paper or in anything except his dog.

The Imperfectionists received good reviews, but itís hard to imagine what audience it attracts, aside from former newspaper journalists relieved that they got out.


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