Red Hats, the debut novel from comedian and former TV dad Damon Wayans, is shockingly bereft of the raunchy, cynical humor Wayans is regularly known for. It’s a blandly composed, incessantly uplifting story of redemption and sisterhood that seems to be tailor-made to be read in beauty salons and nowhere else.
The book follows Alma, a bitter, aging woman who has a contemptuous relationship with her husband, Harold, right up until he dies in his sleep. As expected, her life spirals out of control until she’s saved from a suicide attempt by the local chapter of the Red Hat Society, a group of seasoned women who serve as her support group and party crew. (“But mostly, this is Sex And The City for old biddies,” one member tells Alma.)
It’s easy to plow through Hats in a matter of hours; it’s 211 pages of bathetic earnestness (not to mention rampant, God-heavy preachiness) that’s likely to leave readers cursing its cloying triteness with every page. But the most infuriating aspect is Wayans’ rookie-mistake knack for developing predictable character arcs. Wayans sets up his main protagonist as a hateful, racist misanthrope (she despises her favorite son for marrying a white German named Helga) whose redemption is obviously imminent. And yet she’s so weakly characterized, it’s virtually impossible to care whether she’s redeemed.
It’s amazing that the same guy who skyrocketed to fame playing insolent TV clowns and doing R-rated stand-up riffs would go the Tyler Perry route and create a work of staggering mediocrity. On one hand, it’s moderately admirable that Wayans would write a work of fiction that not only pays tribute to the encouraging golden girls in the Red Hat Society—which has been coming together to get old ladies out of the house since 1998—but also to black mothers like his own, Elvira, to whom he dedicates the novel. On the other hand, it’s still a wholly pedestrian debut. Red Hats doesn’t even feel like a novel; it feels like a treatment for an overly inspiring, pandering, cable-TV movie. It’s plausible that TV One will adapt and air this any day now.