13 March 2011

Book 11 of 2011

I finished this while my wife folded laundry, watching an episode of the Real Housewives.

The Imperfectionists: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)

11) The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman
Tom Rachman's first book is the (relatively) present-day story of an American newspaper in Rome and the people it employs. Each chapter focuses on an individual involved with the paper in some capacity with interstitial chapters detailing the history of the paper from its inception through the current period the regular stories inhabit. Additionally, the chapters all have a headline from an actual event dating when the chapter takes place.

It feels cliche to call a book a page-turner or readable, but I finished it quickly and enjoyed so much of the experience of reading the book that I find it hard to call it anything else. The anthology structure of the book lends to the readability because no character overstays his or her welcome (even though some come close), and the ones that make a really good impression leave the reader wanting more. However, there's a sadness that permeates each of the stories because every single one ends on such a downer note, especially the final two chapters.

Ultimately, that sadness really takes away from the experience of the book overall. Rachman revisits the idea that the way people ingest information has changed dramatically over the last twenty years throughout each of the stories. Each character reiterates that the paper (and, in a larger sense, the idea of the newspaper) dies a little bit more each year, and, coincidentally, it appears that each of the characters die a little bit with each chapter.

And that's what kills some of the enjoyment of the book for me: it's simply too much at times. If at least one of the chapters had ended with the central character getting the leg up on things as opposed to getting beaten down by their idea of the world being shattered, then I could easily say that the entire enterprise was enjoyable and worth the time. A book doesn't need to have a happy ending for me to like or enjoy it; Revolutionary Road is one of my favorite books and that's the king of downer endings, but I think that Rachman's novel stands out because it's several down endings as opposed to a single one. As it stands, the book is really good but so much of a kick in the gut that it's hard to look past the idea that I felt defeated having read most of these chapters. Some, like Ruby Zaga, are predictable in their sadness and their endings may even be viewed as comeuppance. That's fine with me. But Arthur Gopal? Oliver Ott? Abbey Pinnola? Holy cow, Abbey Pinnola's story made me want to throw the book across the room, it was so cruel and hateful. I guess that's the advantage of ebooks compared to regular books -- I have to think about whether or not my enjoyment of a book is really worth destroying my iPad. Usually, it isn't.

The book is still good, bordering on great. But even with a title like The Imperfectionists, I wasn't expecting to get as crushing a reading experience as this provided.

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