Despite the dreadful title, this is an elegant little novel by a writer who's published only two others since his quiet masterpiece, Beetlecreek (1950). A writer and professor of Black Lit finds himself on assignment for New Black Woman Magazine. With his creditors at the door, Professor Edwards beats a path to the crumbling Harlem apartment house where Mona Pariss, once the toast of Europe for her singing, now lives in squalid obscurity. Suspicious of the ""good-looking Dude"" who talks ""educated white,"" the old and forgotten Miss Pariss allows him to interview her after he agrees to some bizarre conditions, which include his lying naked but chastely beside her while asking his questions. Edward's tough-talking editor and Sometime lover, Gracie, who secretly fancies herself a black Gloria Steinem, wants lots of ""nitty-gritty shit about the black experience."" But the aging chanteuse's story--""the holy book"" of her life--comes ""drenched with the balsam of mystery from which ancient myths derive."" This lifelong virgin with an earthy wit, whose songs were rich in ""double intender meanings,"" unravels a deliberately fanciful history, one that evolves into an ""obsessive nightmare"" for the hapless oral historian. As if jinxed by her juju mumbo jumbo, Edwards watches the rest of his life fall apart--his young lover dumps him for an African revolutionary; his radical students consider him a ""jive nigger"" and a hopelessly ""bourgeois lackey."" With a thoroughly engaging and self-mocking sense of humor, he ends his cynical exploration of love with a poetic testament to its endurance--a scene certain to shock the literal-minded. Witty and sensible, Demby's been around long enough to see beyond the clichÃ‰s of sociological fiction and instead probes deeply into the mysteries of romance.