“Europeans are lazy, study says”

There’s a reason they tell you to write what you know.

Tom Rachman was a Rome correspondent for the Associated Press and an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, all of which goes a long way towards explaining why his debut novel–a glimpse at the “topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters and editors of an English-language newspaper in Rome”–succeeds so well.

I picked up The Imperfectionists while killing time in Penn Station (damn you, Hudson News!!) “Spectacular,” screamed the cover; “magnificent,” “beguiling.” (Beguiling?) The back cover, too: filled with glowing endorsements.

It’s immediately obvious why not much space was warranted for any sort of Imperfectionists plot summary. Though the book’s various characters are related–all affiliated with the newspaper in question, which is only ever referred to as “the newspaper”–their stories are presented as vignettes, a dozen or so pages each for a handful of the paper’s employees, and even in one case (my favorite vignette) an elderly reader struggling to keep up with the news (on Feb. 18, 2007, she is reading an issue from April 1994). In between these vignettes are even briefer glimpses at the founding of the paper and its evolution from a frivolous collection of briefs into a publication with a real voice and reputation, and back to a budget-starved anachronism in the world of online journalism.

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