By Florence King

St. Martin's. 181 pages. $15.95

Incase you've not encountered the Florence King Express (I hadn't), here are the particulars, as described on the dust jacket of "Lump It or Leave It," her new collection of essays: King is a big, bad, brassy, misanthropic Fredericksburg, Va., woman who, as she's demonstrated in previous books such as "Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye" and "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady," doesn't suffer fools gladly. She's right-wing, but she defies easy labeling. (Which is true. In this book, she tells us that she's a Republican former lesbian who is against burning the flag even though, if she had her druthers, she'd give up her citizenship "without a moment's hesitation" to live in a revived Confederacy.) She says what others are afraid to; her insights will cause your liberal orbs to bulge; love her or hate her, you'll be impressed by her merciless pungency.

Uh-huh. I once met a woman like that at an out-of-town wedding. She touched my elbow and asked, with deep concern, "What's the deal with all the crime up there in Washington?" You know what came next. She answered her own question, using the phrase "Good people are afraid to say it, but 'affirmative action' has absolutely ruint this country." King, of course, is no addlebrain. She's well educated and very well read -- she grew up in Washington in the '40s and spent her formative years gobbling up the Mount Pleasant Branch Library. She spent part of the '80s reviewing a book a week for Newsday. In this collection, she rounds out a rather predictable list of likes and dislikes (she's against feminists and educationists; she's for Old Hollywood Classics and Joe Clark) with impressive citations. Still, as I read, I feared that the Wedding Woman, with her gap-inducing ignorance, would make an appearance. She does.

In a selection called "-Ist," King starts out reasonably enough: "In the last few years, race relations in America have entered upon a period of intensified craziness wherein fear of being called a racist has so thoroughly overwhelmed fear of being a racist that we are in danger of losing sight of the distinction." As a result, she argues, some white people make innocent remarks -- remarks that may well be true -- but the liberals cry foul.

Such as, for example, Al Campanis. During the uproar about his comments on blacks' ability to manage baseball teams, King asserts, "Campanis was also criticized for an earlier {comment} that blacks do not make good swimmers because they are insufficiently 'buoyant.' Were Americans not in the throes of a racial nervous breakdown, the buoyancy remark could have served as the focal point of a salving, emphatic discussion that neither jumpy whites nor touchy blacks have taken the time to analyze and understand." King quotes passages by black novelists Alex Haley and Barbara Chase-Riboud to prove that "water was the Africans' hell. ... This fear was very likely talked about by the slaves, and the stories passed down to their descendants in family narratives. ... Is it not possible that many young black athletes of the present day have been unconsciously affected by this remote experience? The psychological phenomenon I refer to is called -- awkwardly, in this case -- 'race memory.' The young black athlete was raised by parents, who were raised by parents, who were raised by parents who heard their grandparents talk about that terrifying 'Big Water.' "

Unassailable logic, Florence. Although, drawing on my own experience, I can think of one other reason why none of the black kids who grew up in Jackson, Miss., when I did (the early '60s) went on to become an Olympic swimmer: The city closed all the public pools rather than allow integration. The only Big Water available for doing laps was in the Pearl River or a very large bathtub.

In "Do Right: The Theory," King ruminates on the unspoken Southern code of behavior. Do Right "is the South's Eleventh Commandment ... a tangled credo that grew out of the old aristocratic ideal of honor. ... Do Right served the need for self-policing in isolated rural areas where your word really was your bond." Self-policing in isolated rural areas? Ouch, don't like the sound of that.

What follows, believe it or not, is supposed to be funny: "Do Right also endows us with a curious sense of fair play. ... To me, the most shocking thing about the Howard Beach case ... was that the white men chased the black man onto a busy freeway. Plenty of Southern men would not hesitate to beat up blacks, but that freeway sticks in my cultural craw. Transposing the scene to the South, I see one member of the white mob grabbing the black man by the collar at the last minute, pulling him back from the traffic and yelling, 'You dumb {so-and-so}! You wanna git run over?' Translation: If you're mad enough, it's all right to kill somebody provided you do it fair and square and provided you do it yourself. But don't chase him out into the traffic and let someone else kill him for you, and then try to pass it off as an accident or involuntary manslaughter."

Do Right. This book. Don't buy.

The reviewer is a Washington writer.