Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists
Vignettes of life in and out of the newsroom, with gimlet-eyed observations
At a time when newspaper profits and ad space are at the mercy of both page clicks and the 24-hour news cycle, does the phrase “Late Edition” even mean anything anymore? For the staff and correspondents at an English-language newspaper based in Rome, one so traditional it doesn’t even have a website, there’s plenty of ink writ between the lines. Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists offers the reader vignettes of life in and out of the newsroom, with such gimlet-eyed observations as “News is a polite way of saying ‘editor’s whim’”; and “Financial reporting is the sinkhole of journalism.” The novelist was a foreign correspondent with the Associated Press and editor at the International Herald Tribune, so clearly he knows his beat. The Imperfectionists is narrated richly and evenly by Christopher Evan Welch, like an objective journalist.
Rachman’s series of comic narratives are interspersed with the newspaper’s brief history in Rome, where it was founded by a businessman in the ’50s. Editor-in-Chief Kathleen Solson is a true investigative journalist at heart. Her first feelings upon discovering her husband’s infidelity, before scorn or remorse, are a sense of satisfaction for having uncovered it. Lunching with a former boyfriend (who, to justify keeping her away from the newsroom, could double as a source), she’s forced to confront her alpha-ways, an aggressiveness that permeates every layer of her life. Obituary writer Arthur Gopal travels to Geneva to interview an obscure intellectual for her own post-mortem and suffers the debilitating death of his young daughter. When the piece eventually runs he’s at the mercy of an editor and the notice is relegated to a blurb. Perhaps the most indelible image of old-school journalism at work is the down-on-his-luck reporter Lloyd Burko faxing copy from a local phone center – dedication that’s lost on your average BlackBerry-addled blogger. While some professional struggles play out like small tragedies, others highlight the quirky personalities hiding behind every cubicle wall. Rachman shows great sympathy to his fussy, human cast, keeping them in orbit as they complete the Sysiphean task of getting the news out every day.