cover image NIGHT WORK


Nelson George, . . Touchstone, $12 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-3551-8

Best known for his nonfiction (Hip Hop America and The Death of Rhythm and Blues were both nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award), George is also a talented novelist (One Woman Short, etc.). In his fifth novel, he chronicles the tenuous dreams of Night, a male gigolo who is rapidly tiring of his sordid life. Night's clients are an intriguing mix of wanton playmates, including the white widow of a dead civil rights leader, a sexually frustrated society matron (she's sure her husband is "doing a Congressman Condit with someone in the nation's capital") who likes her action rough, a guy with a penchant for threesomes and a couple who like to romp while wearing masks depicting the faces of noted jazz figures. The money's good, but Night no longer wants to be "a walking, dick-swinging stereotype, the kind of black image the civil rights movement had to overcome." He's pursuing his dream of an R&B singing career in his off-hours, but his ambitions are restricted by haunting memories of what may have been sexual abuse, an ailing younger sister and above all his friend Beth Ann, a needy supermodel with ties to a violent Israeli ecstasy-peddling ring. When one of Night's clients is murdered, police peg him for the killing, further diminishing his chances of going straight. Billed as a noir thriller in the tradition of Chester Himes and Donald Goines, George's novel falls short of the raw power of their work, but it does offer biting wit and intelligent commentary on youth culture, the sexual underground and the entertainment world. Despite substantial weaknesses in the contrived, pulpy plot, George has a flair for keeping readers amused and entertained. (June)