A melodrama about racism and sexuality--""about misconceptions and masks hiding obsessions and masks being removed at some midnight signal revealing some other obsessions entirely."" The narrator, a white homosexual writer, persuades black ex-prisoner Calvin (married, presumably straight) to go off with him to a Long Island beach cottage for a spell. There, Calvin psychologically torments the narrator by his lack of interest, his cruel posturings, his flirtation with a local white woman. Worse, the writer's beloved old dog is dying painfully--and so the would-be idyll has an ammoniac horribleness to it, which is the novel's only credible (if patchy) feature. Then it clatters down an unfortunate slope: the spurned narrator meets white Ivy Temple, an ex-civil-rights-worker who's also fascinated with black men; and she leads the narrator through her own painful past, a tale of progressive degradation--from porno-correspondent with black prisoners to Harlem whore, junkie, gang-rapee, and killer (all in the obsessive service of discovering the racism of sexuality). There are subsequent black commentators on the issue, too: a black neighbor of Ivy's; an old woman who has passed for white; a black cop who knew Calvin while both were in Vietnam. But though Dowell (Mrs. October Was Here, Too Much Flesh and Jabez) grinds and grinds at this mill, he produces only a corrugated book without narrative progress, and one with frequently indolent and annoying prose: ""That night, hurt by a Black woman to balance, she felt, the hurt to her by a Black man, seeing herself fractionally Black because of a dogged lawlessness, trying to take refuge from her pain in the exercise of an analytic ability gone rusty, her childhood's equivalent of counting sheep, in a perhaps mature or maturing, or Black, exercise of irony, she dedicated her bruise and her fucking, midway in her career, to Eager's proud memory."" A mess, however pained and sincere.