No one in 1917 New York had ever encountered a woman like the Bar-oness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven -- poet, artist, proto-punk rocker, sexual libertine, fashion avatar, and unrepentant troublemaker. When she wasn't stalking the streets of Greenwich Village wearing a brassiere made from tomato cans, she was enthusiastically declaiming her poems to sailors in beer halls or posing nude for Man Ray or Marcel Duchamp. In an era of brutal war, technological innovation, and cataclysmic change, the Baroness had resolved to create her own destiny -- taking the center of the Dadaist circle, breaking every bond of female propriety . . . and transforming herself into a living, breathing work of art.
A starred review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred review.HOLY SKIRTSRen Steinke. Morrow, (368p) Literary Review editor Steinke's second novel (after The Fires) is a lively, sympathetic fictionalized account of the true adventures of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, a poet, artist's model and friend of Marcel Duchamp whose irrepressible life bordered on the fashionably sordid. Fleeing her burgher home in Swinem nde, Germany, at age 19 for the liberation and poverty of Berlin circa 1904, Elsa learns early to lie about her past and dress outrageously (often in male clothing), attracting numerous men who provide entr e to high society. Three husbands determine the direction of her life: the first, August, is an effete, hashish-smoking architect; the second, his best friend, Franz, is a charming, tortured poet and con man who brings Elsa to New York only to desert her; and the last is a German baron who gambles away his fortune and abandons her as well. Yet Elsa is an intrepid heroine who continually rises from her own ashes, muscling her way into artists' parties with bon mots and conversation-stopping "self-apparel pieces." Reading an account of an interior life that is not entirely fictional and not entirely factual can be disorienting, but Steinke shows palpable admiration and respect for her proto-feminist protagonist. This is an intelligent, spirited work that stimulates interest in the baroness's work and times.