Picks and Pans Review: Mayflower Manners

updated 03/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Sydney Biddle Barrows and Ellis Weiner

She's back. The sex yenta. This is, of course, the Mayflower Madam, so-called because her middle name implies membership in that American Kennel Club for humans, the Social Register. Anyway, hers is the great American success story: She gets busted for running a call-girl operation, and the next thing you know, she's an etiquette expert and an author no less.

Ms. Barrows is not to be faulted for changing careers (it may well have been part of her plea bargain), but this book is meretricious beyond belief. It is written with a leer, and it is much too cute, whether calling a short section "condom mini-mums" or just trying too hard.

Since man does not live by bed alone, subjects other than sex are discussed. Is it good form to ask a hostess to invite your inamorata to dinner if you are married to someone else who is known to the hostess? Should your sex partner's cat or dog get to sleep in the bed with you? How does one give an item to a gossip columnist? What do you say to an escort service?

Because of Ms. Barrows's supposed white-glove image, there is an awkward effort to pretend that good manners figure into activities like S&M. If there is proper etiquette when using whips and chains, it may be wasted on the teacup crowd Ms. Barrows is obviously, pardon the expression, pandering to.

Listed as co-author is Ellis Weiner. He obviously is the one with the word processor...and probably the words. He has proved himself, elsewhere, to be a thoughtful writer. Perhaps this venture is his way of taking a sabbatical from being a grown-up.

Mayflower Manners does get one thinking, however. Are there really people who need to be told whether or not they're obligated to have oral sex? And just how, exactly, did Ms. Barrows appropriate expert status, and why would anyone care what she thinks anyway? We've got to get hold of this collective national instinct for listening to people just because their names wind up in newspapers. Notoriety does not an expert make. (Doubleday, $14.95)

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