Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Imperfectionists (book review)

   This book had a lot going for it way before I cracked open the library's laminated cover protector.   First, it was recommended to me by my lil' sis Gen and her West coast Derby buddy Julia.  They are both fabulously smart and interesting women, steeped in good books and oozing good taste, so I do not take their banner flying lightly.  Second, I will read almost anything with title font this delicious.  Seriously, it can only mean good things.  And the cover art?  Yum.  Can't you smell the paper and don't you want to brew some coffee?

   First of all, the book is written in a slightly unusual format which, once deciphered, was completely enjoyable.  Rachman weaves the story pretty much by characterizing people over and over again, and quite well.  The reader is served insights into human nature and motivation, parental relationships, the strength of romantic passion (or lack thereof), and even the fallout of the loss of a child. 

   Even those personalities who make only brief appearances in the book are knowable and believable and left me craving more.  This was not a story told from any one perspective; it was instead told from all perspectives.  And it could have been deepened at any point by choosing a favorite character and indulging, roulette style.

   As an aside, anyone who is interested in any of the varied possible careers in print journalism might get a serious kick out of reading this book.  The author offers us juicy glimpses into the daily grind of reporting, editing, proofing, publishing, inheriting, owning, abandoning, and outliving a print newspaper.  Fascinating stuff this is, especially considering the time span chosen.  Rachman writes in one chapter from the 1950s, in another from 2007, them back to the 1970s, again in 2007, and so forth. 

   He has constructed a patchwork story, on one page describing with painful scrutiny the details of a character then leaping, without warning, past an anticipated scene change and boldly into fresh cold wordy waters.  So you know sort of what to expect, it’s the indirect and incomplete history of a daily newspaper in Rome over a span of three generations and opposite sides of the globe.

   If it sounds a bit wonky, let me assure you that it works.  By the end of the book I found myself thinking there was no other way to tell such a story.  Well done Tom Rachman.

   On a philosophical note, isn’t that how we tend to interpret the world at large?  
Through the human experience, first of all, but also through a random and untimed series of encounters, 
a que of unorchestrated revelations?  Not one of us enjoys the clarity of authoritative narration 
in the background or theme music to illustrate the truth behind a life event.  
We just see things and do things and reflect on them.  

Even those among us with the most vivid ambition kind of amble around the globe 
in patterns or apart from them, eventually weaving ourselves into history, 
even if we never get to fully understand that history ourselves.  
Some people call these the “filters” through which we see the world.  
I find it perfectly accurate.

   How often do we ever know the whole story about someone’s life, even a loved one?
 How well could one person possibly understand the motives and passions of an ancestor 
who is two generations and a continent apart from us?  
Or of our companion in the next room?

   Off of my soapbox now, back to the book re view. 

  I highly recommend these 269 pages but with the warning that it is less action packed and more introspective than a lot of popular fiction.  It even lacks social commentary, with the exception of touching on what the internet has done to print media.

Okay, best wishes.  Hope you like it too!


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