Book Review: Basic Black with Pearls by Helen Weinzweig

First line: Night comes as a surprise in the tropics.

It took me less than a month, but more than two weeks, to read this brief novel; it's incredibly interior-oriented, which isn't a bad thing, but it didn't allow for lazy, quick reading. Our narrator, Shirley, is clever, and you can't be sloppy to keep up with her.

The feel of this novel is Erica Jong meets Kate Chopin. Shirley is a smart, passionate 40-something housewife who travels the world meeting her spy lover.

But their latest tryst takes her back to Toronto, where she grew up and still lives, and as we watch Shirley attempt to untangle the clues that will connect her with her lover, we start to wonder just how much of this might be real.

And yet, that's not precisely the point of this novel. In her pursuit of her lover, we're exposed to Shirley's entire life -- her childhood, her marriage, her anxieties and hopes -- and a complicated-but-familiar portrait emerges. By the end, I found myself wanting happiness for Shirley, and I was unconcerned with what was real and what was imaginary. I just wanted her happy.

I feel sorry for the girl who (still) wanders darkening streets carrying two or three library books, shifting them now and against from left arm to right and back again. Sometimes both arms hold the books across her chest like a shield. They belong together, she and her books, and as long as she carries them, she is safe. The writers of books will become her familiars and protect her from betrayal.

Title: Basic Black with Pearls
Author: Helen Weinzweig
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / 1980s / Canada / Marriage / Love / Happiness)
Publisher/Publication Date: NYRB Classics (4/17/2018)
Source: My public library

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