Comfort and Joy

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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 ...

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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?

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Editorial Reviews

New Yorker
Southern landscape viewed from a gay perspective with the bitterness of memory but also with the unwavering, unsentimental love--all this, of course, is Dorothy Allison territory. I can't think of a soldier tribute.
Clifford Chase
Comfort and Joy is something of an old fashion page turner.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 family--to 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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
William Stevenson
Grimsley writes lyrically, and the multiple flashback structure allows him to gradually bring tensions to a boil...anyone who's ever brought a signinficant other home to meet the folks should relate to this affecting story.
Entertainment Weekly
In the hands of a lesser-skilled writer this could have been a Harlequin romance, but Jim Grimsley's Comfort and Joy turns out to be one of the most satisfying and touching reads of the year, and was nominated for a Lambda Literary award...The honesty and beauty in Grimsley's writing keeps this novel real and beautiful.
Kirkus Reviews
A rather pale and bloodless coming-out story by Grimsley (My Drowning, 1996, etc.) in which a nice southern boy falls for a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The McKinneys are the sort of family Europeans usually have in mind when they think of Americans from the Old South. Long-established, genteel, and, above all, rich, the McKinney line is crowded with Confederate officers, gentleman farmers, distinguished jurists, and, lately, respected physicians. Ford McKinney, heir to the family name and wealth, is the third generation to practice medicine. He does so happily and well at a hospital in Atlanta where he meets Danny Crell, one of the hospital administrators. Danny is also from the South, but the Crells are unlikely to have had any dealings with the McKinneys down the years unless one of them happened to be caught poaching on a McKinney estate. But this is still the 20th century, after all, and Danny and Ford fall for each other in a big way. After a long while together, they feel that they should take the plunge and visit each other's family over the Christmas holidays. For Danny, the angst is driven more by class than sex: his family is made up of simple country folk from the backwoods of North Carolina who know all about the odd things that boys can get up to, but who are uneasy around rich kids. All the same, they take to Ford right away. The real hurdle is Ford's Savannah family, who have been pressuring him to marry for years and are already lining up the perfect girl. This is a case of deep denial, intensified by inheritance rights. Can they learn to let go of their little boy? What was it Christ said about the rich man and the Kingdom of Heaven? A melodramatic andsomewhat rambling story that lacks much in the way of a focus—let alone a climax—and unravels into a ball of self-absorption in short order.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565122505
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 10/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 291
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Grimsley is the author of four previous novels, among them Winter Birds, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award; Dream Boy, winner of the GLBTF Book Award for literature; My Drowning, a Lila-Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award winner; and Comfort and Joy. He lives in Atlanta and teaches at Emory University.
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Read an Excerpt

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."


"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.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2006

    Best Book Ever (trust me)

    Comfort & Joy was my favorite Jim Grimsley book. Having already read all of his books, this one proved to be very different from the others. It really touched me, not in the Overwhelming-Pity way I felt for the characters in Winter Birds (I couldn't even finish that book the first time I read it, it was so--too--powerful) or Dream Boy, which made me cry, or My Drowning, that had me so mixed up over the ending that I didn't know WHAT to do. This was the first Grimsley book I read that I didn't try to chuck across the room in a fit, crying my eyes out and shouting 'Oh my God!' halfway to death. I ended this book with a smile on my face, and I'm sure you, dear reader, will too. Why? Comfort and Joy was so sweetly written, telling a difficult story about two men from completely different backgrounds--(Ford is a rich gorgeous closet-case doctor, while Dan, an administrator who works at the same hospital where Ford practices, is a talented singer from the backwoods of North Carolina who's HIV-positive and a hemophiliac)--who try to sustain a budding romance while facing obstacles that include Ford's battle with his sexuality, his uptight upbringing, his parents that can't accept his relationship with Dan, and Dan, who has traumas from his past that affect the way he treats Ford and how open he will be with him. So many touching scenes in this book show, however, that despite these obstacles, true love really is the glue that binds people together. The only problem I had with this book, as with the others, was that there was SO MUCH subtlety in the narration that it had me aching for more, like a SEQUEL!! (THAT would be a GOOD idea!) So many things are left to the imagination, and the readers are forced to draw their own conclusions (you'll find out what I mean when you read it--and everyone SHOULD!--I don't want to spoil anything). Nevertheless, Comfort & Joy was a joy to read, though deliberately not comfortable, as there is much tension underlining the characters' behavior towards each other that adds to the realism of the book--I am so sick of mushy-gushy romance where life is perfect and there is no reality to anything. In true life, there are pitfalls and bumps that people must learn to overcome, that make them really appreciate the beauty of being in love with another person, and having them love you back. Comfort & Joy proved this to me. I would recommend this novel to anyone--I enjoyed it THAT much.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2001

    A must-read.

    Of the many novels I've read, I really can't remember a book where two men's attempt to form a relationship is presented in such a nuanced, complicated, and convincing fashion. The basic plotline doesn't give away how great this book is -- in fact, the plot may sound generic or simplistic (rich, stunning closet case doctor falls for HIV-positive hemophiliac gay man, who comes from trailer park background; oh, and they also deal with their families). What makes the book so fascinating is the range of emotions, desires, multiple layers and styles of communication, as well as fears that are presented in this story. It's a love story without the usual romantic sappiness, rose-tintedness or flights of fancy. It feels 'real' with all its pains, hesitations, fits and starts, and uneasy postponements -- but also with its joys, pleasures, and comforts. In short, it's an abundantly rich book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2001

    A thoughtful, touching story

    A compelling story about two well-realized characters. I enjoyed Winter Birds and Dream Boy, but for me this was the most complete of Grimsley's novels because he provides a penetrating look at two very different families. Both characters, like their families, have their prickly aspects, but their relationship is so well-realized that it is easy to see why they need each other. A very enjoyable read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2001

    sequel to Winterbirds

    I loved Dreamboy so much that I rushed out to get Winterbirds. Winterbirds left me feeling very confused and disappointed. The story was abrupt and did not seem to have an ending. I was very shocked to find that Grimsley picked up Danny's story in Comfort and Joy. I was 18 pages into the book before I realized the Dan was Danny. You do not need to read Winterbirds to enjoy the book, but it explains much of Dan's actions towards Ford and life in general.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2001


    I had real problems with this book. This was the first thing that I have ever read by the author, so my comments apply only to this work. The merits earned by the main strength of the book, the depiction of a real, tender relationship, are quickly gobbled up by the main weakpoint of the book, a tendency to border on dialogue and plot conventions found in grocery store romances. I had wanted to give the book only two stars, but there was a great scene where they ate chicken. I love chicken.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2000

    Very Enjoyable

    Having read other Jim Grimsley books in the past I thought I knew what to expect with Comfort and Joy. Instead I found a book filled with incredible scenes of romance and hope. Grimsley's writings put the writer into the story and will never let you go even after you are finished.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2000

    Story Falls Flat with Tired Writing

    I am a past admirer of Jim Grimsley' work and was eager to delve into his latest, 'Comfort and Joy.' After several pages though, I felt like Grimsley's writing was not up to par--too many hackneyed and trite phrases, too much of the same territory that has been covered better before in other 'coming out' novels. The writer never seemed to find his stride and the story line develops rather dully and predictably. Some scenes are done well, but I when I found myself skimming to get to the end, I know that this book hadn't caught me. Writers don't necessarily get better as they go on; in this case, Grimsley's earlier novels were much better written and conceived. Perhaps this is a case of 'successful writer gets another one published'--even though it should have been tabled or edited much more thoroughly. Try again, Jim.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2000

    One of the best books ive read

    This book is fabulous! It makes you realize that everyone, no matter what feels alike in some way or another and that we all experience the same emotions. It also makes you question your own sexuality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 1999

    Not very well written soap opera

    I found this novel tedious and predictable, like a prose version of a gay soap opera episode. The author is obviously trying to 'go commercial' but the result is a book, especially some of the dialogue, that makes you laugh when you're not meant to laugh.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 1999

    A story that touches your heart......

    Although this book is full of cliche..(a rich family who can't accept the fact that their golden son is gay, a poor but happy family who only wished for the happiness for their son...sick lover being taken care by a rich, handsome doctor...) will not mind these cliches once you begin to read the story......... The one thing that made me love this book is that it touches my heart.....the book reminds me of my own stories: the struggles I went through when I first fell in love with my lover, my own coming out process, coming to term with fact that I am attracted to men and my relationship with my family..... reading the book, I found myself going back through time and reflecting upon the choices I made..and before I knew it, I shed a tear.....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 1999

    Where do I begin?! It was fantastic!

    It had been a while since I'd picked up a book and absolutly loved it. I read the jacket cover and thought it would be an interesting book. This story really touched me a way no other book has. It takes the reader into the mind of a man who has difficulty coming to terms with his sexuality. I found myself being absolutly angry at Ford's parents who are constantly pressuring him to marry. Even though I had some difficulty reading such discriptive situations between the two men, I found this book wonderful. I'd read it again and again. It has really opened my mind on what homosexuals must encounter in this world. Everyone, go out and pick it up now!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 1999

    Another great novel from the master... Jim Grimsley

    Whew... I was up 'til 4 in the morning finishing this book. Taking us forward in time after the lead character in Winter Birds has grown up and fallen in love, Comfort and Joy is thoroughly engrossing and well worth the cover price.

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