Smooth lit

Oct 25, 2000 at 12:00 am

What’s a gigolo to do? So much untended pussy and so little time. Pity poor Malcolm. When he isn’t jetting from LA to Chicago to “Hotlanta” to offer phallic comfort to lonely sistas with MBAs, he’s struggling to keep hope alive for true love and a retirement gig as a jazz pianist. The guy just can’t help it; his daddy was a tramp, so why not the son?

Meanwhile, his best friend, Simon, has travails of his own. He’s opened a nightspot, Club Obsession, in that ground zero of Southern yuppiedom, “Hotlanta.” To get things off the ground, he hires a troupe of male strippers, led by Teddy, a dastardly playa with a massive schlong. Simon’s girlfriend, a camera-hog newscaster, is none too happy with her man’s business concerns and seeks solace beneath a dodgy preacher she meets on a business trip to New Orleans.

If all this sounds like the book equivalent of “I-lease-my-Benz” smooth jazz, you’re not far off the mark. The back cover proclaims Baisden “the bad boy of literature.” Well, he could use a spanking for the relentless and shameless narcissism of characters, their conspicuous consumption, their romantic interludes that seem plucked from either an episode of “The Love Boat” or the grooves of a 2 Live Crew record. Throw in a sterile writing style that renders every setting or situation a dull parade of brand names and in-your-face fronting and you have the makings of a wretched afternoon of reading.

And yet, I read on. There’s a certain idealism, trite as it is, at work. Baisden seems less interested in delivering good words than a good parable. He titles one section of the book, “Don’t Hate the Playa, Hate the Game.” Black men and women are forced into ridiculous pantomimes of material success. This in turn prevents them from keeping it real emotionally.

Baisden is no Toni Morrison; he writes very much in the present tense, with nary a wink at the slave quarters and their poisoned legacy of male infidelity and female tolerance of the same. But it would be wrong to dismiss him as Terry McMillan in pants writing a pantywaist apologia for men’s often appalling behavior. A vexing work — mediocrity with the best of intentions.