The X in this Gen-X debut novel pays homage to Malcolm, whose confrontational politics serve as inspiration to the black radicals at the heart of Farley's tale. They stand out for their integrity in an otherwise disjointed narrative full of strained humor and callow editorializing. The narrator, Thurgood Brinkman, is no radical himself; a buppie wannabe, this 29-year-old journalist feels himself a failure. Neither a distinguished member of ``the talented tenth'' nor a successful graduate of his elite school, Thurgood writes silly lifestyle pieces for a newspaper much like USA Today, where his editors demand the latest on oversized vegetables. His role model is one Sojourner Truth Zapader, a columnist for the Washington Post, to whom Thurgood sends weird e-mail. His work life a mess, Thurgood fails with women, too, from an anti-Semitic computer thief to a switchboard operator with four kids. Meanwhile, his own sister, Bethune, is dating a white rapper, whose gangsta lingo and style drive him to distraction. Thurgood's big break comes when Zapader offers him a job as her assistant covering the Gulf War. Stuck in a Saudi hotel, the two eventually elude their Army guards, get lost in Iraq, then are captured and held in a Baghdad hotel. Along the way, Zapader's rants about black nationalism and American imperialism draw none of Thurgood's withering commentary, which he saves for a general named Luther Pinpoint (a thinly veiled parody of Colin Powell) and other alleged race traitors. A subplot about a ghetto girl mentored by Thurgood is apparently meant to add to his education, but it's not clear exactly how. The social and the existential clash in this self-satisfied book: grand-theme musings mix uneasily with excessive concerns about college friends, beginnings of careers, and such--making for pitfalls of a classic first-novel kind.