It’s tempting to read The Imperfectionists as a case study for the modern newspaper: adapt or become obsolete. It’s also tempting to read The Imperfectionists as a dramatic miniseries which makes it difficult not to compare it to other dramatic period pieces, notably Mad Men . This would be a mistake, though.
It seems silly to reiterate the fever dream Mad Men has caused for hermeneutics enthusiasts. The series is ripe with analogues, allegories, cultural signifiers, social commentary and other contexts for interpretations. Needless to say, apart from offering a picture of America at a very specific time, the series speaks volumes about the salad days of the advertising industry. And while I read Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists I wrongly estimated a similar telos for the novel.
That is to say, I made a mountain out of a molehill. But the molehill was well constructed, and quaint. The thing about Rachman’s novel, a series of vignettes that coheres to tell the story of failing international newspaper, is that it doesn’t overreach itself. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t. It’s not an epic, huge sweeping novel about the state of journalism. It touches on the way things have changed, sure, but its scope is small. Rightfully small. Instead it tells the story through the experiences of the people who’ve worked there. It focuses on the personal. The trials and trivialities as the workers grapple with life’s obstacles: be it a failed career, failed marriages, friendships lost and gained, and the omnipresent ticking clock. The great thing is how these stories coalesce, offering a better picture of a newspaper than a treatise on journalism ever could achieve.