The Dixie Diva Book Club's October selection is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This is not a novel; it is a collection of vignettes about different staff members of an unnamed English language newspaper based in Rome. Each chapter title is actually a newspaper headline from 2005-06, and each headline relates to the chapter in some way. Between each chapter is a small entry discussing the paper's illustrious history. These entries tie the vignettes together.
I think some readers have been turned-off by the book because it is not a traditional novel, but there is more cohesion to the story; it is not a collection of short stories because the staffers' lives are interconnected. It is a character-driven book, but most of the characters are unlikable. I literally could not stand one of the copy editors, and most of the women in the book settle for either losers are horrible situations just so they will not be alone. I kept singing Pink's "Stupid Girls" in my head while reading this book, but then I reminded myself that it was written by a man.
Some of the situations in the book are shockingly funny, but the humor is dark. In one chapter entitled "The Sex lives of Islamic Extremists," a young stringer (fresh from graduate school) is literally used to the point of absurdity while on assignment in Cairo. His name is Winston Cheung, and unfortunately he cannot speak Mandarin because his parents would only speak English to him. A veteran stringer, Rich Snyder, contacts Winston and requests that Winston pick him up from the airport. Snyder then crashes at Winston's apartment, steals his laptop, and mooches off of poor Winston in every way imaginable. To add insult to injury, Snyder pushes Winston to harass a lady in a hijab at a market place and ask her insulting questions, like: "Ask her if she plays around. Is that common in Islamist circles?" Of course the crowd gets hostile, and it only escalates from there. And might I point out how the headline does, in fact, relate to the chapter.
The book is also a metaphor for the future of all print newspapers. In the age where a daily paper is literally yesterday's news, with so many other, more immediate media at our disposal, how can daily print newspapers possibly survive? How many of you read a paper from cover to cover everyday, or how many of you even still subscribe to your local daily newspaper? In spite of many unlikable characters, I really liked this book. It was different, thought-provoking, and very well-written. Although we had a small group at our book club meeting last Tuesday night, everyone seemed to like the book and was happy that it was one of our selections for 2011.
Until next time...