I've never really been much of a fan of short story collections. I usually find that the stories don't fit together well and, often, that the author slipped in a line or two to completely unrelated subject matters in order to create a collection. (I'm talking to you Olive Kitteridge...)
Luckily, that was not the case with Tom Rachman's novel The Imperfectionists. Rachman gives us an insight into many of the personalities who run a fictional English Language newspaper set in Rome. We meet several reporters, the publisher, a few editors, and even the paper's accountant. Each has a separate story focusing on his or her personal life. And, yet, each story melds together so well because we're introduced to the various characters throughout the novel. For example, the editor who seems so cold-hearted to one reporter is really dealing with a cheating spouse and has no energy to deal with his reporter's incompetence. Or, the obituary writer is not as lackluster and useless as everyone seems to believe, he simply was uninspired by his tasks.
There is a message to the varied perspectives Rachman offers us, I believe. The myriad cliches that are swirling through my mind are those about walking in another's shoes or not knowing what goes on behind closed doors. But, I don't think it's accidental that this book takes place in a newsroom. No, I think that Rachman wanted us to understand that there are two sides to every story. That we must force ourselves to remain objective about other people and their situations until we know all the details. The fact is, as a general rule, we all believe we're the front page story in everyone's life. We are confident that our every mistake, our every word and our every action is scrutinized by others with as much intensity as we look our ourselves. The truth is, most of us are lucky if we earn any typeface at all in another's newspaper. We'd all do well to remember that everyone has their own front page story and their interactions with us are complicated by the headlines in their world.
It's hard for me to accept this view of the world, of course. I like believing that K Mart was named for me (though I'd prefer Target was my store instead. And, really, if we're making stores mine, let's go big. How about Kottery Barn or Krada...?) I like living in a world where every time a person gives me a dirty look it's because they're reacting to me. The truth is, to paraphrase Paulie Bleeker (from Juno!!), they probably aren't giving me a dirty look, it's probably just the way their face is.
Rachman's stories remind us that the world is bigger than we are. That's a pretty perfect message for this imperfect world...