“Art, like love, redeems, and love, like beauty, is imperfect.” – Beautiful Imperfections
Wabi sabi, a Japanese term for finding beauty in imperfection, perfectly describes Keith James, “the girl with the boys’ names,” who travels from the Midwestern U.S. to Toronto and on into the world of fine art and big money. Like pieces of raku pottery amidst the porcelain, Keith, her mentor, a brilliant Haitian-born art historian, and the handsome Jewish art dealer who becomes her husband, are all standouts in a world that views them as outsiders. Through loss and love, they discover that art, like love, redeems, and that love, like beauty, is imperfect.
Top Amazon Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars By Darlini Martinion
I am so impressed with the writings of Marjorie Vernelle! Not only is this novel a page turner, but the amount of information revealed about the art world is amazing. In some ways, It almost feels like an art class! Not knowing much about Toronto, it was very interesting to not only learn a lot about Canada, but what its like to attend University outside of the USA. Woven in between and all around the story is a beautiful love story. I found Keith to be an amazing character and so admire her courage and strength to overcome all of the obstacles presented to her. Trust me, you will not be disappointed with the ending in this novel.
5.0 out of 5 stars By Galen Hazelhofer
This is a wonderful story especially if you are interested in art. If you are not, there is a lot you can learn here. The references are wonderful and you feel like you are in the middle of the art world yourself as Keith does her gallery work and hangs out in the upper echelons of society from San Francisco to Toronto and her visits in between. It is a wonderful story line and I would love to see the movie!
5-Star Review 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.
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Women’s Contemporary Fiction
Chapter Excerpt: Beautiful Imperfections by Marjorie Vernelle
Keith James, a young black woman and her mentor Lucien Montreux, a Haitian art historian, are at a fundraiser in which people’s valuables are being appraised in hopes of finding some treasure. Keith finds her treasure in Dr. Montreux.
I set up the table for an appraiser, had reference books at the ready, and took the tickets of those who came, making sure that they matched the number of items they had paid to have appraised. Then I observed. It was painful really. The jade dish that someone’s great grandfather had brought back from his adventures on the China Sea turned out to be nothing but soapstone, proven when the appraiser could scratch the bottom of the dish with a coin and leave a tiny mark. The printed picture brought lovingly across the sea from Ireland by a great ancestor in the 18th century was just that century’s equivalent of a calendar picture: no value then, no value now. I had to admit that my aesthetic tastes, still developing at the time, let me know when some of these family treasures were just ugly junk, then, now, and forever.
I performed my duties professionally, though, without comment or expression. Lucien Montreux was there working on Saturday, just across the room from where I was. I was surprised to see him at this more ordinary event, as he had been very present on Thursday evening to work with the wealthy patrons of the gallery. After taking the ticket and getting each client settled for his or her appraisal, I would sit with one ear attuned to what the appraiser was saying and with both eyes on Montreux. I could not hear what he was saying, but I could watch his manner. Each appraiser received the next client in line, but I noticed that some of those shown to Montreux seemed to hesitate, showing reluctance. Obviously, it was a bit odd for them to see a black specialist sitting there, though Hamilton-Colbert only hired the best appraisers. Montreux for his part was completely unconcerned, greeting each client with charming and gracious manners. As he talked about the object they had brought to him, I would see them lean forward in interest. From time to time, an assistant for one of the other appraisers, someone younger and newer to the business, would come asking for advice. Seeing their expert be the man whom others went to for advice seemed to convince the skeptical. I found out later that Montreux always volunteered to be of assistance to those new to doing public appraisals, which created a visible acknowledgment of his talent that smoothed his way with the reluctant public. I marveled at his strategy. “Sly old fox,” I thought.
As I watched Lucien Montreux, a memory came to me of a Japanese raku teacup I had seen at Hamilton-Colbert. It might have belonged to Sen no Rikyu, the 16th century master of the tea ceremony and vassal of Lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Oddly shaped, that cup was far from the static, pure, porcelain beauty of Old Japan. However, its dark surface had an attractive shimmer. The irregular rises and falls in its form pleased the hand, finding a way to fit perfectly no matter how the cup is held. Sitting by itself it attracted the eye by its difference. Among other pieces of raku, it held its own, playing its unique part like an instrument in an orchestra. Lucien Montreux was that masterpiece of raku. He did not fit the porcelain model. The irregularity of his being in this setting caught the eye. The beauty of his talent and expression drew one to him, just like the soft shimmering finish and odd form of that teacup moved one to desire it. He was the prize, the rare object, by some standards imperfect in form, yet beyond measure in its beautiful allure.
I noticed from across the room that Dr. Montreux would look up from his appraisal work and smile at me. I had sent him a formal letter of thank you, but I had not contacted him otherwise since that windy day on campus when our paths had crossed. As things wrapped up on that Saturday, I excused myself for a moment to go across to talk to him. He looked up and watched me as I approached. Read the rest of this entry »