Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Imperfectionists

by Tom Rachman
New York: The Dial Press, 2010.

Though billed as a novel, this is a series of vignettes or short stories that each focus on a different character. These characters have one thing in common: their connection - often employment - with an English-language newspaper in Italy. The stories are told in chronological order, so even as we move between each character's point of view and story, the full picture that we begin to put together is of the newspaper itself. In between each story, we learn more of the back story of how the paper came to be in the first place, and by the end of the book the two stories - the character sketches and the story of the newspaper - have merged.

I'm rather conflicted about this book. I liked the format, which often reminded me of Olive Kitteridge, in which the short stories taken together gave me a mosaic of this one character as seen from many points of view. In The Imperfectionists, each character's story eventually gives you a full picture of the newsroom and the newspaper. Each story is rather artfully done, too, with clever use of language and interesting - though very imperfect - characters. And here my conflict lies. I did not these characters, and I have a very tough time reading about characters that I dislike. By the time I realized that no one was going to be likable, I was too far in to abandon the book. I found the characters and the overall tone fairly depressing, so the more I think about the book, the less I like it. The writing is superb, though, and at moments I cared about the characters despite my dislike, which tips the balance positively overall.

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