- The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachmann
The chapters alternate between portraits of a newspaper's modern-day employees and a history of the paper's founding and development. There is some overlap in the portraits, which makes sense, but they are also pretty distinct stories that could each stand-alone. The paper is international in scope, traditional in format (not even a website), and based in Rome. Characters vary from an aging stringer to a writer whose career becomes his focus after a familial loss. Many are not overly likeable but most are interesting and fairly well fleshed-out for the style (my usual complaint about shorts is the lack of fullness in the characters).
I enjoyed this quite a bit and give it a solid four stars. I'd certainly seek out more works by Rachmann since I enjoyed his writing style and his attention to character development. I wasn't as frustrated as I might have been by the brevity of each "visit" and I think that's largely a testament to the amount he fit into the pieces. Yes, they aren't all likeable but, in my view, that makes them all the more real. A favorite was the piece on the Chief Financial Officer who finds herself seated on an international flight next to a man whom she'd just laid off. There is commentary on the impact of modern life on the newspaper trade but I didn't find the context to be incredibly central to the book. It did remind me of a favorite chapter in Ulysses (and I just like being able to tout surviving that one, as all Haverford English majors do...and even enjoying it....).
Definitely for readers who want character over plot.
- The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
Again, this is a book of characters more than plot, even though there IS much more plot than just the roadtrip. The trip serves as a chance for reflection since it is a rare time off-duty and so it does have the "action" of many years within the short trip. It is more about character though and about concepts like dignity, class, and culture. A key question left to the reader is whether the quality of a worker should be judged in relation to the nature of the employer. Stevens clearly hopes his life of service has been worthwhile, but worries about it in hindsight.
I consider this a key piece of twentieth century fiction and recommend it to literary folks who want to be comprehensive in their reading as well as to those who like their books to provoke thought. It is a treatise on moral reflection in the dressing of a novel and carried off well by a wonderfully talented writer (loved his more recent Never Let Me Go, 4.5 stars, and just ordered two more of his works).