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Comfort and Joy Paperback – October 16, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (October 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565123964
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565123960
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,732,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Hiller VINE VOICE on October 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I must admit to not be a true connoisseur of gay fiction. Some of the stuff I tried reading in the past is a conglomeration of a convoluted plot that usually ends up with the main character sleeping with all of the other characters in the book before the yawner close. However, my boyfriend, who reads far more gay fiction than I, has been steering me around this world and introducing me to gay fiction that's not only rich, but compelling. Thus is the truth about Jim Grimsley's book, "Comfort and Joy".
He writes the story of Ford, dashing doctor who's struggling with his identity despite his intense feelings, and Dan, an introverted, kind man with secrets to hide. Off the bat, the pairing of these two characters grabbed me: that the handsome Ford, who so easily could have fallen into caricature, finds within Dan a world of possibilities, not entirely based on appearances. In fact, what initially grabs Ford is Dan's voice, after hearing him sing in a hospital Christmas concert.
In fact, Christmas keeps rattling around this couple as they decide to spend the holiday with each other first, and then to travel to meet Dan's somewhat accepting parents in North Carolina. This scenario is played out well, as we know Dan's initial shyness would be such a huge barrier to truly get to know him, that we finally learn more about him through his interesting family. Grimsley here too doesn't fall into stereotypes, but makes Dan's poorer family diverse enough to question Dan's sexuality but still welcome the couple with open arms.
As all of this swirls around, the main focus is the couple hood of Dan and Ford. From it comes a sense of honesty, and permanence. You know, despite the major issues they must deal with, the strong undercurrent of their affection and love will hold them steady.
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Format: Hardcover
Readers of Jim Grimsley's earlier novels--"Winter Birds," "Dream Boy," and "My Drowning"--might be surprised by the title of his new novel, "Comfort & Joy," for there is little of either in his other writings. But this one has both as Dan Crell and Ford McKinney put their fragile, unlikely relationship to the test of coming out to their families--because they refuse to spend another Christmas apart.
Grimsley's style is unadorned and understated. His familiar gothicism is replaced by a modern South with conflict set amidst affluence--the conflict of two men's vastly different backgrounds and their families' vastly differing expectations of them. Their pasts constantly threaten to swallow up their chances. Dan is an HIV+ administrator in the Atlanta hospital where Ford McKinney is completing his residency. (Readers of Winter Birds remember Danny, the hemophiliac child who narrates the drunken binges of a father who terrorizes his family with violence just short of murder.) Ford is the privileged, only son of old Savannah gentility: his parents have his life planned. Like grandfather and father, he'll be a physician and marry into Country Club society. They even pick the girl. When Ford insists he'll make his own choices and may not be the "marrying type," they still don't get it.
Dan's mother isn't exactly comfortable with her son's homosexuality, but her life on the brink of disaster has taught her that what counts is the love between herself and her children. That Danny is gay could never diminish her love for him, and when he brings Ford to her trailer in the back woods of North Carolina, she welcomes them.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although _Comfort and Joy_ shares characters with an earlier work by Grimsley, _Winter Birds_, the two novels could not be more different. Whereas the earlier work is a dark, harrowing tale of violence and domestic abuse, the present novel chronicles the hesitant, tender romance between a grown-up Dan Crell, coping with hemophilia and HIV as well as the scars left by his upbringing, and Ford McKinney, a handsome doctor from a rich family. They meet at the hospital where Dan is an administrator and Ford is a resident, fall in love and struggle with the issues so many gay male couples face: intimacy, money and their families. Though occasionally there is clumsy expository dialogue, surprising for a writer as skilled as Grimsley, and a false note or two in the romance, ultimately the author convinces the reader of his central argument. The contrasting holiday scenes in the Atlanta household and the humble residence of Dan's mother, now remarried, in South Carolina show that the rigid gentility of Ford's well-to-do Atlanta family constitutes its own kind of domestic abuse. One roots for the survival of this unlikely couple, and is uplifted by the ambiguous but hopeful ending. I read the earlier _Winter Birds_ some time after finishing _Comfort and Joy_ and realized that, despite the dramatic contrast in tone between the two, knowing the former adds depth to the later story and increases one's appreciation of both works.
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Format: Hardcover
"Why do they live in the same house, share meals together, argue about money and parents, why do they have pets, plant begonias, bring home birthday cakes? Where are the children, where is the sense of permanence, what is the tie that binds? (p.207)" It is in pursuit of questions like these that this that we are lead as Dan and Ford explore how intimate gay relationships are initiated, negotiated, and finally, consummated - in the fullest meaning of that term. How is it that two unlikely beings can come to the point of finding that living can only be complete when it involves both of them; together? It is also a wonderful examination of the fears and anxiety as well as the 'comfort and joy' of both discovering, and ultimately being true to ones self.
This is one of the most satisfying novels I have read in years. There is enough plot interest to keep the reader engaged, but the real treasure in this read is in watching the author weave together the delicate fabric of a committed relationship between two men - in a society where this is still not accepted as the norm. We are permitted to feel the pain which is experienced by these two men as they seek to develop a strong and meaningful relationship, but we are also given full measure of the comfort and joy that can come from the effort.
Because the novel is as real as it is exciting, it allows the reader to reflect on their own experience with forming and keeping intimate relationships in a way that is as helpful as it is full of power and passion. A great novel not only for gay readers but for anyone who wants to better understand what's involved for gay people seeking to form lasting relationships.
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