Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Beautiful Imperfections is a literary fiction novel written by Marjorie Vernelle. Some might think that the Survey of Art History class that Keith James took to fulfill the Religious Knowledge class in her first year at the University of Toronto was the defining moment in her life, and indeed, in many ways, it was. Dr. Lucien Montreux, the brilliant, assured and enigmatic Haitian professor and art expert, immediately enthralled her with his energy and fire, his intelligence that seemed to gleam from his eyes, like flashes of diamonds. He was the guardian of the mysteries of the art world and, in introducing them to her in his own inimitable way, he became her mentor, friend and inevitably her lover. The young Nebraskan sophomore’s eyes were caught not only by the lovely and charismatic man conducting the class as if it were a symphony, she was also drawn to the very pale and beautiful young man sitting just a few seats away and down one aisle. She was fascinated by his long, dark curls and lustrous black eyes, his intelligent and measured responses to Montreux’s lecture. David and the professor would become the two most important people in her life, satellites orbiting her world, but her defining moment had actually taken place some days earlier when Sadie Lee Celestine James attended the Frosh dinner as a new student, and in a moment of clarity and inspiration, had become Keith James, someone who was “jazz, sharp, modern, improvised, like a cool, clear note blown straight from the trumpet of Miles Davis and well worth consideration.”
Even more than that transcendent first lecture where Keith meets Montreux and David, I was stunned by the passage quoted above relating Sadie Lee’s transformation into Keith. Marjorie Vernelle’s literary fiction novel, Beautiful Imperfections, is as grand and glorious as the Turner landscapes Keith loves so much and as complex and nuanced as Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. The art lover and aspiring artist in me instantly felt at home in Keith’s world and loved learning with her the intricacies of her craft as an art expert and gallery owner. Vernelle’s descriptions of life in San Francisco had me feeling like I was back there myself, and the spell she weaves about Toronto made me almost consider braving those winters to experience that city first-hand. There’s music in these pages, and not just the jazz evoked by Keith’s brilliant name change -- add a bit of Stravinsky and some discordant new classical works and then stir in some rich classical symphonies as those three lives swirl, clash and continue their endless striving to connect. But most of all there’s the art, the Turners, the five little De Koonings that mean so much in so many different ways and cause oh, so much pain, the hidden Old Masters that could save Keith from the total tragedy that befell after the San Francisco earthquake. And there’s her own art, Keith’s own visions of light and color. All these things swirl and conspire to delight the reader. I love this book. It’s beautiful and perfect. Beautiful Imperfections is most highly recommended.