The Imper­fects

  • Review
By – December 13, 2020

At the cen­ter of Helen’s vin­tage orchid brooch is a mas­sive yel­low stone, which Beck Miller, her grand­daugh­ter, assumes is cubic zir­co­nia. But when Helen dies and leaves it to Beck, she quick­ly learns that it is like­ly the Flo­ren­tine Dia­mond, for­mer­ly owned by the Haps­burgs, one of the world’s great gems lost to his­to­ry. This star­tling rev­e­la­tion leads Beck and the rest of the Millers to reeval­u­ate their rela­tion­ships and every­thing they thought they knew about their tight-lipped grand­moth­er, the only mem­ber of her fam­i­ly to sur­vive the Holocaust.

It is great fun to fol­low the Millers as they work to deter­mine the his­to­ry of the dia­mond and how it came to be in Helen’s pos­ses­sion. They are enjoy­ably dys­func­tion­al. Years-old con­flicts caused by mis­un­der­stand­ings and acci­den­tal betray­als fol­low Ash­ley, who has mar­ried into wealth but strug­gles to main­tain her per­fect house­wife” image; Jake, an aim­less for­mer screen­writer who keeps attempt­ing but fail­ing to grow up; Beck, a sharp, bit­ter young para­le­gal ful­ly aware that she’s not liv­ing up to her poten­tial; and their moth­er, Deb­o­rah, who, despite her age, still lives like a guile­less child, start­ing one new age busi­ness after another.

Mey­er­son shifts per­spec­tives from Miller to Miller, some­times in quick suc­ces­sion, show­ing how dif­fer­ent­ly mem­bers of the same fam­i­ly can per­ceive events. They ini­tial­ly squab­ble over who gets the dia­mond, pre­sum­ably worth about ten mil­lion dol­lars, and what to do with it. Soon the fam­i­ly dra­ma comes face to face with inter­na­tion­al mys­tery, as the pub­lic learns of the dia­mond and every­one from the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment to their estranged father makes a claim on it. Read­ers learn fas­ci­nat­ing facts about gemol­o­gy and the sur­round­ing law, as Mey­ersen presents a con­vinc­ing sto­ry about what would hap­pen should a long-lost jew­el sud­den­ly emerge.

As intrigu­ing as the Flo­ren­tine is and as enter­tain­ing as the Millers’ argu­ments are, the real mag­ic of The Imper­fects comes as the Millers uncov­er Helen’s trag­ic past. The details of her escape at age four­teen from Nazi-occu­pied Vien­na are stranger and even sad­der than they’d imag­ined. As the Millers learn to bet­ter under­stand and respect each oth­er, they real­ize that if they want to know them­selves they need to deeply con­nect with their heritage.

Mey­er­son has writ­ten a delight­ful romp that blends his­to­ry, rich char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, and punchy but com­pas­sion­ate scenes into a page-turn­ing fam­i­ly saga. It is the per­fect escape in our per­ilous times: light enough to be fun and seri­ous enough to make you think. This absorb­ing nov­el will keep you read­ing late into the night and appre­ci­at­ing your own fam­i­ly and their pasts.

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.

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