Then We Came To The End. But Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists stands rather adequately on that novel's shoulders, advancing the theme that we never really know anything important about the folks with whom we spend 40-plus hours a week. However, where Ferris's novel was funny, with the occasional instance of sentiment, Rachman's novel is more sad and sincere — with a touch of humor sparingly sprinkled about.
It's a just-right mix, though, to tell us about the lives of these lonely journalists, toiling away at a failing English-language newspaper in Rome. We get 11 path-crossing vignettes describing the lives of 11 people. There's the lonely copyeditor who spends New Year's Eve in a hotel room drinking by herself, all the while dousing herself with the cologne of the married man she's obsessed with. There's the young journalist trying out for a stringer position in Cairo, and soon realizing he's in way over his head. And there's the overworked news editor who has overachieved in his love life, snaring a beautiful woman 14 years his junior. But can he keep her interested?
At the center of these beautifully rendered character studies is a paradox: The newsroom encompasses the entirety of the world in terms of access to and dissemination of information. But yet those who inhabit that newsroom on a day-to-day basis, reporting the goings-on across the globe, are some of the most lonely, troubled people you've ever met. They are constantly making messes of their personal lives, cheating on their spouses, and sweating their careers. Journalists are a different breed, to be sure — and job-related stress, especially in this age of declining newspaper readership, adds to the plight of these characters, but also to the delight of the novel's reader.
Four out of five stars for The Imperfectionists. Minus one only because one or two of the vignettes aren't quite as compelling as all the others.