Two events cause Cordell Carmel, a black freelance translator probably in his early or mid-forties, to change every aspect of his life in pursuit of ‘freedom’. The first occurs when he drops in unannounced on Joelle, his girlfriend of eight years, and finds her screaming in bliss as a well-endowed lover, the eponymous Johnny Fry, takes her from behind.
As his friend Brenda later underlines, part of what gives this experience its transforming force is that it reverses the white nightmare of a wife or daughter ravished by a black stud: ‘A black woman taking a white man in up her ass, and her man comes in on it? Her black man? She should expect a bullet.’ But it’s Fry whom Carmel vows to kill; Joelle he toys with before finally confronting her, having sex with her in a masterful fashion that mimics his rival, and testing whether she will maintain the pretence of being faithful to him.