DATE: Wednesday, October 8, 1997            TAG: 9710090781


TYPE: Book Review 


                                            LENGTH:   62 lines


SET IN MODERN-DAY LOS ANGELES, ``Li'l Mama's Rules'' centers around a 30-year-old black private school teacher, Madison McQuire (nicknamed Li'l Mama by her aunt), who has rules for dealing with men. Madison's ``dos and don'ts'' of dating arise from abandonment by her father, infidelity by her aspiring doctor-fiance Chris, and her overall bad experiences with both black and white men.

``I believe there is a proper way to do everything, including dating,'' Madison informs.

``I've found over the years that men are ornery, dangerous creatures, and unless you have precise methods for dealing with them, they can turn your life upside down. . . . It takes an intelligent woman with an equally intelligent plan of action to navigate through the swamp of the male species and stay above water.''

But the thing about Madison's rules is that she has a habit of breaking them.

Rule No. 1: Never invite them back to your place.

Madison breaks this one right off, inviting a date - a man she isn't even interested in - home and becoming intimate with him. Immediately, her integrity and credibility are called into question. Li'l Mama's draconian rules are not driven by solid common sense, but insecurity and pain.

Madison makes love on the desk of Tommy Thompson, the rich, married, founder of Mighty Avalon Prep School, where she works. After breaking off their affair, he sexually harasses her. When Madison and the only man she claims she loves - Malik, a gay colleague - launch a campaign to establish sex education courses without Thompson's approval, she thinks both will be fired. But then, she discovers that a professional football player with whom she had violent, unprotected sex with dies of AIDS. She later tests positive for HIV. Drinking and a suicide attempt follow.

Chris, whom she jilted, rescues her. And she is given some tough talk by her little sister Serena, who has Tourette's syndrome: `` Did you think about us? Did you think how we would feel if you killed yourself?''

Serena, by the way, goes to Mighty Avalon, an exclusive, all-black school, for free. Now which of Li'l Mama's rules justifies suspending tuition for family members in exchange for sexual favors with the principal?

``Li'l Mama's Rules,'' told in first-person stream-of-consciousness, is Sheneska Jackson's second novel. Though the savvy, attractive but lonely black woman beset by an army of no good black men has become almost a fictional genre unto herself - Terry McMillan's ``Waiting to Exhale'' being the benchmark - Jackson does have a strong, distinctive voice. She is also HIV-positive like her alter ego and has a story to tell. This novel, however, is just her warm-up. MEMO: Margaret Bernice Smith Bristow is a professor of English at

Hampton University. She lives in Newport News. ILLUSTRATION: Graphic


``Li'l Mama's Rules''

Author: Sheneska Jackson

Publisher: Simon & Shuster

269 pp.

Price: $22

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