Cover image for Comfort & joy
Comfort & joy
Grimsley, Jim, 1955-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.
Physical Description:
291 pages ; 21 cm
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Ford McKinney leads a charmed life: he's a young doctor possessing good looks, good breeding, and money. He comes from an old Savannah family where his parents, attentive to his future, focus their energies on finding their son--their golden boy--a girl to marry. But how charmed is this life when Ford's own heart suspects that he is not meant to spend his life with a woman? His suspicions are confirmed when he meets Dan Crell.

Dan is a quiet man with a great voice. Behind the tempered facade of the shy hospital administrator is a singer who can transform a room with his soaring voice, leaving his listeners in awe and reverence. Ford catches one such Christmas concert and his life is never quite the same; he is touched in a place he keeps hidden, forbidden. When Ford and Dan begin to explore the limits of their relationship, Dan's own secrets are exposed--and his mysterious and painful childhood returns to haunt him.

In Comfort and Joy Jim Grimsley finds a marriage between the stark and stunning pain of his prize-winning Winter Birds and the passion of critically acclaimed Dream Boy. In this, his fourth novel, he considers pressing questions. How does a man reconcile the child he was raised to be with the man that he truly is? What happens when an adult has to choose between his parents and a lover?

Author Notes

Jim Grimsley's first novel, Winter Birds (1994), has been called a harrowing portrayal of family violence. It garnered the North Carolina native the 1995 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Grimsley, who admits he writes autobiographical fiction, has also written Dream Boy (1995), and My Drowning (1997). He is also a playwright and has contributed short stories to anthologies such as Men on Men 6: Best New Gay Fiction (1996).

Grimsley's plays have been produced nationwide, including at Atlanta's 7 Stages Theatre, where he has been a writer-in-residence for ten years. Jim Grimsley has been awarded the Bryan Prize for Drama by the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the George Oppenheimer Award for Best New American Playwright of 1988.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The more-or-less sequel to Grimsley's first novel, Winter Birds (1994), could have been titled Ford's Progress. For although we pick up Danny Crell, the main character from the previous book, the tale being told here is about how Danny's male lover, Ford, comes to take "comfort and joy" (ah, Grimsley's chosen title perhaps is the best after all!) in their relationship. It's Christmas, and Danny and Ford are going to visit Danny's mother for the holidays. In successfully handled flashbacks, we learn the circumstances of their meeting and of their quite dissimilar family backgrounds: Danny from dysfunction and lack of privilege, Ford from nothing but privilege. Ford's family has been after him for a long time to find a suitable wife and settle down; he is much less comfortable in his relationship with Danny than Danny is with him. But over the course of this particular Christmas, the two of them take some major steps in giving a secure future to their partnership. Sincere and never melodramatic nor maudlin. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Continuing to follow the life of Danny Crell, introduced in his debut, Winter Birds, Grimsley has written his fullest and most humane novel yet, a work whose commendable restraint does not impede its emotional impact. Opening with Danny's plans to visit his family over Christmas holidays with his lover, charismatic pediatrician Ford McKinney, the narrative flashes back to the first meeting between the two men, three Christmases earlier, and evokes the difficulties of their relationship as well as the bonds between them. Both men are survivors who hide their true emotions behind an air of detachment. The novel chronicles their efforts to break through their protective facades, as each slowly realizes that the only way their relationship will endure is through a courageous decision to risk rejection. One source of tension is their vastly different backgrounds. Home for Danny is a trailer in the pungently evoked backwoods of eastern North Carolina. Dan and his mother retain their wounding memories of Dan's father, an abusive alcoholic, and of Dan's dead brother, Grove. Native ground for Ford is patrician Savannah, where his handsome, chilly parents are hardly pleased to find their accomplished son indifferent to the woman they have picked out for him to marry. Further flashbacks show Ford's slow coming-out process and the pair's cautious courtship. But deeper issues intrude. Danny is a hemophiliac and HIV+, and Ford, as a physician, is well aware of the implications of Danny's disease. Scenes where Danny injects a blood-clotting mixture to prevent internal bleeding are bone-chilling and heartbreaking, as Danny rejects Ford's help because he doesn't want his lover to see the messy circumstances of his life. In the strong and moving denouement, Ford finally gains the courage to bring Danny to meet his familyÄto disastrous effect, although the novel ends hopefully. Grimsley's survivor's tales are always compelling; this book promises to be his breakthrough to a wider audience. Author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Grimsley (My Drowning) presents a Christmas story of sorts. Dr. Ford McKinney and hospital administrator Dan Crell have been together for two years. This Christmas season is different from the previous one, for Ford has come out to his wealthy Savannah family and told them about Dan. To say they do not react well is an understatement. So Ford and Dan decide to spend Christmas with Dan's lower-middle-class family in North Carolina. Dan has been out to his family for some years, but this is the first time he is bringing home a lover. While traveling, Ford silently explores their relationship through a few well-constructed flashbacks. After a realistically pleasant visit with Dan's family, the couple decides to visit Ford's to give his parents a chance. The story ends soon after the expected ugliness at the McKinney home is over. Grimsley, winner of the American Library Association-Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Task Force award for fiction, tells a story of relationships and the power we have over each otherÄa power to both crave and fear. Highly recommended.ÄTheodore R. Salvadori, Margaret E. Heggan Free P.L., Hurffville, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The psychotherapist, a friendly woman with wire-screwy hair that wafted in a cloud around her face, offered her hand at their first session, introduced herself as Shaun Gould, and asked, "Why are you here?" "My dog died and now I'm so lonely it's driving me crazy." His directness brought her forward in the chair, and she said, "I'm very sorry you lost your dog. That must have hurt you." "Yes." "Did you know you were lonely before the dog died?" "No. But I know now." "What do you know about it?" Shaun asked, and the question bore just exactly the right ring of interest, nothing feigned or enacted. As she listened to his answer, he studied her comforting body, its thick waist and generous curves lounging in the black leather chair. He told her about breaking up with his current girlfriend, and he told about breaking up with the previous girlfriends. Each time he described one of the girlfriends, he got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, and finally he said, "But that's not what I want to talk about." "I didn't think it was," Shaun said. "I want to tell you about Allen," Ford said. "And then I want to tell you about McKenzie." He expected to tell the story with detachment, but failed. He stopped talking and waited, shivering. Shaun listened with occasional changes of expression, small nods, and careful encouragements for him to continue. He told about [the dog] and McKenzie, and those months in Chapel Hill when he had been with them both. He trembled, but Shaun sat calmly, hands folded in her lap. When he said, "But he never came back to get the dog, and so I kept him," and then fell silent, Shaun sat motionless. Finally nodding once. "Why did you tell me that?" she asked. "To tell you something about me." "What are you telling me?" "That I must have cared about him a lot." "That you must have?" He thought carefully. "That I did. I cared about him. More than I cared about anybody else that I can think of." Ford visited Shaun once a week for a period of several months. While he declined to discuss these sessions with his parents, they were relieved to note he had regained his weight and color. He slept well, after the first few weeks. Returning to the empty house no longer paralyzed him. Abandoning the image of himself floating above himself, he caressed the physical objects around him, the exquisite antiques that had belonged to his Great-grandmother Bondurant, the Waterford vase full of silk daisies, the stainless frame of the Matisse print over the Victorian sofa. At the hospital, he proved himself to be a better prospect as a pediatrician than many would have guessed, moving with authority from nursing unit to clinic exam room, charismatic, with a knack for getting along with nurses and ancillary staff. Even after thirty-six- and forty-eight-hour shifts, Ford remained even-tempered and clear-headed, proving his value repeatedly. "Why do you want to be a doctor?" Shaun asked, in late September. "I don't know," Ford answered, "I never really thought about it." "You're working very hard to become something, and you don't know why you want to be that something?" Ford enjoyed the game of framing his answers in words that Shaun would allow. "I want to be a doctor because my father was a doctor and my grandfather was a doctor. I never really thought about my own reasons. It was enough to think about my father and my grandfather." "Don't you think you should do a little thinking about what you want?" "I guess I already have. Because I'm going into pediatrics. My father wasn't too happy about that because pediatricians don't have the same prestige that surgeons do. Don't make as much money. So he wasn't very happy with that, on top of the whole business with [the dog]." "Do you think there's any connection between the two things?" "You mean, the fact that I'm going to keep disappointing my father for a good while to come?" Shaun fingered the plain gold band that she wore on her right hand. "That's one way to look at it. But I think it might be healthier just to think of it as one more step toward honesty with your parents. With both of them. Your mother is involved in all this, too." Honesty. With the white house, the cool rooms, the yard filled with oleander, the Vietnamese gardener moving among the blossoms. Honesty with the cool china, the polished silver, the framed pictures of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, collateral couples, the great paired beings of his past. "I know what you're trying to say, Shaun. But it doesn't matter what I call it, honesty or anything else. My dad's going to hate it. So will my mom. In my family, in Savannah, you get married. You just do it. No matter what. I'm already late." By early fall, his parents' concern over his matrimonial future became acute. At dinner with his father one evening, the two of them supping in the elegant affiliated men's business club (which remained a men's club even though women occasionally won membership), Dr. McKinney Sr. brought up Ford's old girlfriend, Haviland Barrows, who had recently married Red Fisher, one of Ford's high school acquaintances. "Settled right down in the historic district in a little stoop cottage. Renovated beautifully, right out of a textbook. I don't think that's such a bad way to start out." Father dabbed his lips with the napkin, preparing to engage his almond torte. "Of course, he'll get the Jones Street house when his grandfather dies. Your uncle Hubert drew up that will. God knows what she gets. Some of the Barrows don't have a cent, from what I hear." "I hope she's happy," Ford said, signaling the waiter to bring more coffee. "She deserves it." "I never did understand how you let her get away, son," Father said. "It was easy," Ford answered. "In fact, I wonder if I'm likely to get married at all." "What are you talking about? Of course you'll marry. Your mother and I wonder why it's taken you this long." "If it's taken this long," Ford said, "that has to be because I've wanted it that way." "Nonsense. First you had to get through medical school. That's what we've always expected." Dr. McKinney adjusted his collar. Ford spooned his own torte. "But now you're out of medical school, and it's time to think about your future. You're going to be a busy man, and you need someone to take care of you at home." "You got married when you were in medical school." "That was different. When your mother and I were coming up, people got married when they were younger. These days it's better to wait, the way you have. But you do have to stop waiting sometime." His father laughed, self-consciously, underlining the jovial atmosphere he attempted to create for serious discussions. "I don't think I'm waiting." Ford spoke with all the finality he could muster. "I've had plenty of chances. I don't think I want to get married." "You can't possibly be serious." "I can." Folding his napkin and laying it on the corner of the table. His father paused, then changed the subject to the politics of Emory University Medical School, the appointment of yet another dean. "This one may be worse than the last one," Father said. "We don't know if this one can even function with a-" falling suddenly silent. "You don't know if he can what?" Ford asked. "Well, anyway, he can't be worse the last one." "But what about Dean Rouse?" Ford asked. "What are your buddies at the club saying about him?" "Just idle talk," Father said uncomfortably. "Did you know he's a bachelor?" Ford asked, after a moment. "Why, yes. I did hear that." But his face was set as stone, and Ford watched him carefully. Frost settled over the table, covering their dinnerware and the remains of the dessert. Ford sipped his coffee. Later they discussed his trust funds and other financial matters. Ford asked after his mother. Father answered that she was well. The conversation cooled even further, and the two men parted company in the porte cochere as the liveried driver handed Father the keys to his vintage Mercedes. At the last moment, the elder doctor said to the younger, "Don't forget we talked, Ford. You need to think about what you're doing. You've come through a bad time, and I think all that trouble started because you need somebody to take care of you. You need a wife." "I'm thinking about all that, Father." The two shook hands, and in his father's eyes glimmered ghost lights of real affection, sodden and held back. At about the same time, while awaiting an appointment with his chief of service, Dr. Milliken, Ford chanced to read a memorandum posted in the Department of Pediatrics office suite. The memorandum, like others layered on top of it on the bulletin board, might have merited little of Ford's attention, being unremarkable-but it was signed by someone in administration named Dan Crell. The signature itched at Ford for a few moments before he remembered the Christmas concert, the eerie voice, and the name on the concert program. At the end of September, Ford rotated out of Grady for two months of training at Egleston, another of the teaching hospitals that Emory staffed. By the time he returned to Grady, in December, with the hospital adorned in poinsettias and decorated doors, he had allowed the name to lapse from active memory once again. But one morning early in the month, he became aware of someone watching him from the back of a nearly empty elevator. Since he was ultimately headed for the operating room, Ford wore the green surgical scrubs that are ubiquitous in hospitals; the particular suit Ford had scrounged fit him snugly, the shoulders somewhat narrower than his own. The short sleeves rode high on his shoulders, and apparently the young man at the back of the elevator found the sight of Ford's shoulders irresistible. Nothing new. Ford turned a little and allowed himself to return the man's gaze coolly. But the face shocked him. Recognition came at once. Ford looked for the man's identification badge and saw it hanging from the pocket of his shirt. Mr. Crell noted the motion, and this discomfited Ford somewhat. He felt suddenly naked in the green scrubs. But he met the man's gaze again. This time Mr. Crell averted his eyes, as if shy. The moment gave Ford an interval in which to study the face again. Dark curls framed features that seemed sharp and soft at once. The face broadcast innocence, as if a child were entombed in it. The face as a whole shimmered from awkwardness to moments of grace. Or seemed to, until the young man met Ford's gaze again. "This is our floor," said Crell's companion, a nurse whom Ford had failed to notice. "I guess I'm falling asleep," Crell said, "it's all those late nights," easing away from the elevator door. Even in those few words Ford could hear the singer in Dan's voice, the rich soothing undertone that, for a moment, filled the elevator car. That was it, or so Ford thought. But as the elevator doors began to close, the man looked back at Ford. They simply watched each other, and the door closed, and that was that. Use of this excerpt from COMFORT & JOY may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright c 1999 by Jim Grimsley. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Comfort and Joy by Jim Grimsley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.