Book Quote:

“Journalists were as touchy as cabaret performers and as stubborn as factory machinists.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (APR 6, 2010)

This debut novel is the memoir of a newspaper and the story of the people who work there. Formatted in much the same way as Olive Kitteridge, each chapter can stand on its own as a short story about one of the newspaper’s employees. Each chapter fits well into the whole and provides insight into the chapters that follow. Interspersed between the chapters about employees’ lives outside their time at the newspaper, is another story, the history of the newspaper itself and of the characters that both create and dismantle it. Tom Rachman writes with a sharp eye and a cunning wit. Often the chapters end with a sharp turn of events or a huge surprise. Because his writing is top-notch, I was surprised that this is a debut novel.

Each of the characters has their own personal issues and we get to see them in relationship to their jobs but outside of work. The newspaper is located in Rome and for those readers who have traveled there, the streets and communities will be familiar. Arthur Gopal is one of the newspaper’s employees. He is in charge of obituaries and some games and puzzles. He is the son of a famous journalist. He doesn’t care much about his job at all. He is asked to travel outside of Italy in order to write a memoir about an important feminist prior to her death so that the obituary will be ready when she dies. While he is in the process of interviewing her, a life-shattering event occurs which forever changes his attitude towards life and the newspaper.

Herman Cohen is very much the soul of the newspaper. He is the Corrections Editor and has a formidable “bible” of usage that he has created. God help the reporter who makes a mistake in usage or creates a typo. One of the reporters wrote about “Sadism Hussein” and Cohen made sure she suffered. Herman has a friend named Jimmy who he has adulated since childhood. He’s expected great things from Jimmy such as the authoring of a book. Maybe he’d even write a book about Jimmy some day. When Jimmy is 65 years old he visits Herman. With gradual awareness, Herman realizes that his expectations of Jimmy are mostly projections. Jimmy will always be a semi-loser, waxing philosophic but not an agent of action.

Ruby Zaga, Copy Editor, is one of my favorite unlikeable characters. She hates her job and her co-workers. She is a misanthrope who has been with the newspaper for 20 years. She’s now 47 years old with no friends, no significant other, and no real interests outside of work. The only thing she likes about her job is the special ergonomic chair that she has managed to attain. She dreams of being fired but can’t think of what she’d do if she wasn’t working. She does things to invoke her own firing and is generally self-destructive. She has an erotic delusion about a former co-worker. She calls him repeatedly and swashes his cologne scent all over herself before bed. Most of the time, she is drunk at night and calls her co-worker who does not know how to stop her. While she dreams of getting fired, it is also her worst nightmare and she obsesses the whole weekend that on Monday she will receive an e-mail that says she is being let go.

Craig Menzies is the News Editor. He lives with his partner, Annika. He hates his job and feels like he’s a “yes-man” to the Editor-in-Chief. Annika is 27 and Craig is 40. When they met in D.C., Annika was an aspiring photographer. However, since they’ve been in Rome she primarily keeps house for Craig and has not done any photography. Recently, Craig convinces Annika to take a yoga class. Annika meets a man in her yoga class with whom she has an affair. This man sends intimate pictures of their liaisons via e-mail to everyone on staff at the paper. Craig is appalled but he is not a strong man. He is afraid to be alone. What happens is a real mind-bender.

We meet Lloyd, a foreign correspondent who is down to his last dollar and is not beyond using his own son to get a scoop. There is Hardy, the Finance Editor, who lives with a young hippy who she’s met at the police station and may have even robbed her. There is Winston Cheung, an applicant for a stringer position in Egypt. He is used by two other applicants and ends up feeling like a sucker. We also get to know Ornella De Monterecchi who has read every copy of the newspaper that has ever been published. Her only problem is that she is ten years behind in her reading. Let me not forget Abbey Pinnola, Financial Officer, who finds herself on a transatlantic flight sitting next to a man she has fired. This chapter may have the strangest ending of any in the book. We meet Oliver Ott, current ineffective Publisher whose only friend is his basset hound. He is the last in the line of Ott’s that has created this paper as part of a grand corporate empire.

Most of the characters dislike or even hate their jobs. What the reader gets to see is a slice of their lives outside the newsroom. We are privy to their innermost feelings and the substance of their lives. We also get to see how the newspaper started as a grand enterprise and is now falling behind the times. There is no web presence, the budget keeps dwindling, staff are being let go, and the readership keeps decreasing. This is a fun book, sharp-edged and raw. It is a book about people doing things they’d only do when they think no one is looking – only this time, we are watching.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 489 readers
PUBLISHER: The Dial Press (April 6, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another take on the journalist:

Another strong debut collection:


April 6, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, Debut Novel, italy, Literary, Short Stories

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