A lost feminist classic that is equal parts domestic drama and international intrigue. Shirley and Coenraad’s affair has been going on for decades, but her longing for him is as desperate as ever. But something has happened, and Coenraad sends Shirley (who prefers to be known as “Lola Montez”) to Toronto, the last place she wants to go.
...arresting and unforgettable ... Now, eight years after the author’s death, this new edition from New York Review of Books Classics offers readers in the United States a not-to-be-missed opportunity to rediscover an important and underrated voice ... Weinzweig’s slim and increasingly surreal volume defies easy comparison ... Perhaps better than any spy thriller.
Motherhood figures queasily throughout these sometimes frantic, sometimes enervated pages, which trace the zigzag journey of Shirley Kaszenbowski (née Silverberg, alias Lola Montez), as unreliable a narrator as they come ... While the novel maps Shirley’s obsessive searching within a gray urban grid, its real journey is subterranean, taking the form of peregrinations through her jumbled psyche ... We’re treated to fantasies of harried mothers, whoring mothers, suicidal mothers, impoverished mothers, impostor mothers and indifferent mothers pulling their little girls along the sidewalk ... On the particulars of sexism and misogyny, Weinzweig can be superbly caustic. Here is the question: If the protagonist volunteers for her own victimhood, can it be called a work of feminism? The more reasons we’re given to doubt whether [her lover] Coenraad even exists, the more Shirley seems implicated in her own romanticized self-abnegation. And yet there’s something admirably ornery about Weinzweig’s refusal to deliver a straightforward novel of empowerment, a narrative of liberation, a role mode—as if insisting on a flawed heroine is itself an act of resistance. One might even call it a phenomenon of paradox.
Originally published in 1980, Basic Black with Pearls is a lauded (if lost) feminist classic that unravels the ennui and desperation of the disregarded woman ... It echoes narratives like Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and even Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays; its taut prose exploring the roles available to women, tinged with an evolving suggestion of madness made by a uniquely female lot ... Weinzweig is certainly deserving of a new crop of readers this new edition is meant to entice – her brisk style and tone remain fresh to a contemporary audience, and her subject matter is still disturbingly relevant.