Saturday, June 9, 2012

The inanimate protagonists among us.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman is a novel in which each chapter focuses around a different protagonist, all of whom work for an English language newspaper in Rome.  In between each chapter is a short section in italics about the history of the paper.

The title made me think about who the imperfectionists are.  Each chapter's protagonist envelopes perfectionism in a different way, while simultaneously embracing--sometimes unknowingly--the imperfections in other areas of their lives.  It actually brought me back to my sophomore year English class discussing Stradlater, the secret slob in The Catcher in the Rye.  Since there are so many characters, each chapter really felt like I was peering through a window into the messy details of their lives that their newspaper coworkers had no idea existed. And, all the while, these imperfect beings--who still have incredible strengths--create a daily paper, which is the true protagonist of the story. It is no more perfect than those putting it together, but it breathes and ignites a certain passion, making it a most interesting character.

In response, I've been thinking about the inanimate protagonists of my own life--places and objects that could command their own story within mine and perhaps thousands or millions of others' lives, connecting us with some giant spool of thread.  Through time some are delegated to mere supporting characters in my past as others step up to help define my current era of life.

I loved thinking about all of the stories that the paper had witnessed throughout the years--and the way that people feel an attachment to it throughout.  I think about places like my high school's football stadium and the innumerable Friday nights I spent there from age 10 or so through high school, and then everyone else who has done the same, past and present.  Or walking through academic quad on Miami's campus in the fall.  Or making peace with the city on the Hudson River with tea in hand.

For better or worse, I know that I can kind of be a sentimentalist, but these are what create community across generations--the kinds of things that anchor people and make them feel at home.  And, as a lover of fiction, thinking of them provides me with endless fodder for imagining all the stories that have unfolded before them--and a little sad that most will not be written down.

And I think, just to flip this idea for just a second, that if we all stopped to think about what our mutual antagonists were--the visible or invisible forces that also connect us with spools of thread--if it would deepen the sense of community and understanding and empathy?

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