Question: What could be more terrifying than bringing your significant other home for Christmas? Answer: Bringing home your significant other of the same sex. From the start, it's clear that Jim Grimsley's vision of the holidays holds as much darkness as it does light. Ford McKinney first lays eyes on Dan Crell when he's singing carols at the hospital where they both work, the mournful minor-key tones of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" seeming to broadcast "the sadness of Christmas" in contrast to the lights and decorations around them. Their attraction is immediate, but the couple must face down several obstacles. For one thing, Dan is a hemophiliac who's HIV-positive. And Ford, a rich doctor from a prominent Savannah family, doesn't even think of himself as gay. That the two manage to meet, date, and fall in love is something of a miracle in itself--perhaps the only one that can sustain them through the season of miracles.
Comfort and Joy alternates scenes of Ford and Dan's courtship with their trip to North Carolina to meet Dan's family. Like any couple anywhere, they argue about money and their families; unlike some couples, they also argue about Dan's health and Ford's reluctance to kiss. In chronicling their history, however, Grimsley gets at something fundamental: the strange mixture of love and hate and anxiety at the bottom of every relationship, gay or straight. "You're really not as bright as I am and that's a problem," they both think, being "honest" with themselves, then wonder: "Why do men stay together?" The easy answer, of course, is that they love each other. The more complicated one is that, in living together, they've begun to dream the same dreams, breathe in rhythm, lay down "crevices" inside themselves in the shapes of each other. This, Dan thinks, is enough: "enough, without words, to keep them silent about the fact of their hates and their fears, their deep concerns about each other, and the certainty that one of them would die first and neither of them knew which one it would be."
The novel's prose is workmanlike at its best, but Grimsley's understanding of the human heart is deep and rich. His book refuses easy answers and stereotypes; for example, the mysterious trauma in Dan's childhood stays in the background, where it belongs. A lesser writer would have chosen to make its revelation the book's climax--the epiphany that explains Dan's character--but Grimsley knows that childhood pain is only one of many things that make us who we are. Such is the difference between fiction that seeks to tell us who we are and fiction that knows what a mystery we are at our core. Comfort and Joy is not just a book for gay readers: it's a book for everyone who's ever been in love, who's ever had a family, who's ever wanted to find some kind of refuge from the world. --Chloe Byrne
From Publishers Weekly
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 familyAto 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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.