Thank you for all of your great comments on the first quarter of The Imperfectionists. I’m happy to know that I’m not the only one hoping the stories will come together in some way, and I loved hearing your reactions to the characters’ emotional pitfalls and triumphs. (And to give one specific shout-out: Ann—I thought your analysis of the chapter titles was genius. I’m reading them in a whole new way, thanks to your insight.)
Now, to discuss the section we just read. I found these two chapters to be remarkably different from the first three. After spending the first quarter of the book spotlighting seemingly random members of the editorial staff—a finance writer, a Paris stringer, an obituary editor—Rachman has turned his attention to the big guns: the intimidating but fatherly corrections editor (Herman Cohen) and the work-obsessed editor-in-chief (Kathleen Solson).
I couldn’t get over how thoughtful, kind, and considerate Herman was. He was genuinely tormented by the fact that his childhood friend had never achieved his dreams, and sappy about how his own wonderful life had turned out. Even his passion for “the bible” struck me as noble. Reading this chapter, I felt sure that my “reporters sweep their emotions under the rug” theory had been premature. But then Rachman mentioned an interesting little detail about Herman: He has never been a reporter, even though he’s been at the paper for more than 30 years. Do you think Rachman had a specific intention in including this lighter chapter? Do you think it’s significant that Herman has never been a reporter?
Herman stands in stark opposition to Kathleen, who can’t focus her attention on the man “who slept beside her and woke beside her for six years of her life” for more than a few minutes. Rachman writes, “She can’t help it: She’s of the newspapering temperament, and he’s no longer front page. When, she wonders, do people have time to contemplate anything? But she has no time to answer that.” As the editor-in-chief, Kathleen epitomizes the “don’t wallow” mind-set. I think that her underlings—Arthur Gopal, Hardy Benjamin, and LLoyd Burko—display it to lesser degrees, perhaps even in direct correlation to their respective rankings at the paper.
Finally, to change topics, I wanted to bring up another vital theme in the book: infidelity. I’m intrigued that both Lloyd Burko and Kathleen were outwardly accepting of (albeit internally tormented by) their spouses’ infidelity. Infidelity also plays an important role in the Leo, Betty, and Ott narrative. Of course, Betty didn’t actually cheat on Leo with Ott, but her dates to buy art with him were certainly romantic and emotionally significant. And in many ways Ott was cheating on his own wife—if not physically, than mentally—in moving to Europe and founding a newspaper, just to be near Betty. Last week, many of you were wondering where that story was going, and I have to say, I am shocked by where it’s gone. Did any of you expect Ott to pass away so early in the book? If this is the last we’ll see of Betty, what do you think we’re supposed to take away from her story? Were you saddened by the final depiction of her: sitting in her apartment in Brooklyn, listening to children in a schoolyard outside her window?
Share your thoughts below, and see you back here in a week!