Full Circle

Full Circle

by Michael Thomas Ford


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History professor Ned Brummel is living happily with his partner of twelve years in small-town Maine when he receives a phone call from his estranged friend--Jack--telling him that another friend--Andy--is very ill and possibly near death. As Ned boards a plane to Chicago on his way to his friend's bedside, he embarks on another journey into memory, examining the major events and small moments that have shaped his world and his relationships with these two very different, very important men.

Growing up together through the restrictive 1950's and confusing '60's, Jackson "Jack" Grace and Ned Brummel took solace in their love for each other. But once they arrive at college in 1969 and meet handsome farm boy Andy Kowalski, everything changes. Despite Andy's apparent heterosexuality, both Jack and Ned fall hard for him, straining their close friendship. Soon, the three men will become involved in a series of intense liaisons and bitter betrayals, coming together and flying apart, as they alternately hurt, love, shape, and heal one another over the course of years. From the heady, drug- and sex-fueled days of San Francisco in the wild seventies to the haunting spectre of AIDS in the eighties and the righteous activism of the nineties, their relationship transforms and grows, reflecting the changes going on around them. Now, together again in the most crucial and intimate of settings, Ned, Jack, and Andy have another chance to confront the damage of the past and embrace the bonds of friendship and love that have stood the test of time.

"Impactful. . .real. . .Ford's beautiful story makes it all seem possible and believable. . .these are rich characters, heartfelt descriptions and real-life happenings that resonate. . .allow yourself to get lost in this story." --The Lambda Book Report

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780758210586
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 08/01/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,228,367
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Michael Thomas Ford is the author of numerous books, most notably the “Trials from My Queer Life” series of essay collections—Alec Baldwin Doesn’t Love Me, That’s Mr. Faggot to You, It’s Not Mean If It’s True, The Little Book of Neuroses, and My Big Fat Queer Life. He lives in San Francisco with his partner and a very large black Lab.

Read an Excerpt

Full Circle

By Michael Thomas Ford

Kensington Books

Copyright © 2006 Michael Thomas Ford
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-1057-9


I open my eyes and look up into the shadows that fill the ceiling over the bed. Rain is falling, drumming on the roof, and vaguely I make a mental reminder to clean the gutters before the storm promised by the weatherman on the evening news arrives in full force. Tomorrow, perhaps, after I finish grading the stack of freshman essays sitting on my desk in the next room. If I can find the ladder in the mess that is the barn.

Beside me, Thayer rolls onto his back and breathes deeply. As usual, he's somehow managed to pull most of the quilt around himself so that he's cocooned in warmth. I both admire and resent his ability to sleep so fully, like a child. Or a dog, I think, as on his smaller bed beside ours Sam imitates Thayer, stretching his big paws and sighing contentedly.

How old is Sam now? I count back, ticking off the years. Eleven? No, I correct myself. Twelve. Twelve years since Thayer and I returned from the Banesbury County Animal Shelter with him sitting between us on the seat of our pickup, nose raised hopefully as he sniffed the air for the scent of home. Even then his paws had been enormous, hinting at the great lumbering beast he was soon to become.

Twelve years. How did they slip by so quickly, turning the lively puppy wecouldn't keep away from the pond behind the house into the gray-muzzled fellow who now spends most of the hours asleep in a pool of sun on the porch? What have they done, too, to Thayer and myself? Somewhere in that rush of days we've slipped from our forties into our fifties, our hair graying and our bodies beginning to betray us in small ways-eyesight that proves more and more unreliable, muscles that complain more than they used to about getting the chores done. My last birthday was number 56, and Thayer will catch up to me in less than a month's time.

We are, all of us-men and dog-growing old together. Older, Thayer says whenever I mention the unstoppable advancement of time. Not old. "We'll never be old," he says defiantly, kissing me on top of my head where my hair is thinning. "And you shouldn't worry so much," he tells me. "It's burning a hole in your head, like a crop circle."

This eternal optimism is one of the many things I love about this man, my partner for nearly fifteen years. He is the antidote to my suspicion that the world is forever on the brink of calamity, teetering perilously between salvation and destruction, ready to tumble headlong toward annihilation at the merest push. He saves me from myself on a daily basis. And he bakes the sweetest apple pie I have ever tasted. What he sees in me I don't know and am afraid to ask, in case thinking about the answer finally makes him see what a fool he's been to stick around.

And what of Jack? Has Jack aged along with the rest of us? I can't help but wonder. Although I'm trying desperately to distract myself from thinking about him, he intrudes, pushing his way in as he always has, as if he belongs in the room simply because he wants to be there.

It's how he's always approached the world. I know from far too much past experience that now that he's settled in, he won't go away, so I give in and pull back the covers.

The wood floors of our old farmhouse are cool beneath my feet, and groan softly as I walk from the bedroom, down the hallway, and into my office. Sitting at my desk, I turn on the lamp and surround myself with a circle of light. Pushed back, the darkness retreats through the window. The rain seems to dilute the blackness, and through the thinning night I see the outline of the barn. Beyond it is the pond, and beyond that the blueberry bushes and, finally, the woods. This is the place I call home, the place where until Jack's phone call I believed that I was safe from the past.

"Ned, it's Jack." And just like that the ground fell away beneath my feet. Even now, hours later, I still feel as if I'm tumbling through the air, waiting to hit the ground.

I open one of the desk's drawers and remove an envelope. Yellowed with time, it's addressed to a house I no longer live in, on a street thousands of miles away, in a city I left long ago without looking back. Inside is a card decorated with a Christmas scene and signed with a hastily-scrawled signature. Tucked into the card are two photographs.

I don't know why I've kept either the card or the photos. I'm not by nature a sentimental man, a trait that confounds Thayer, a hopeless romantic who still has the flowers I gave him on our first date, dried and stored in a box somewhere in the attic. I don't believe in cataloging my past, surrounding myself with reminders of people and places. What I want to remember I keep in my head.

But I've held on to these, although until Jack's call I hadn't looked at them in a very long time, and had to unearth them from a box of old tax returns and unfiled articles in my closet. Now, seeing them for the first time in many years, I'm reminded of something a photographer friend once told me. "The only subjects that photograph completely naturally," she said, "are children and animals. The rest of us are afraid the camera will see us for who we really are."

In the first photograph, Jack and I are children, probably four or five years old. We're dressed in nearly identical outfits-cowboy costumes complete with hats and little pistols. Jack is waving his gun at the camera and beaming, while I look at the gun in my hand with a perplexed expression, as if concerned that at any moment it might go off.

As I look at the boys Jack and I once were, I can't recall the occasion for the cowboy getups. It's one of the many childhood moments that have disappeared from the files of my memory like scraps of recycled paper. Without the photographic evidence, I'd be unable to prove its existence at all. But there we are, the two of us, captured forever as we appeared in that one brief moment in time.

The occasion of the second photograph I remember more fully. It was a birthday party for a mutual acquaintance. This time Jack and I are men nearing forty. It was one of the last times I saw him. Once again, Jack is smiling for the camera while I look away, caught in profile. Gone are the cowboy outfits, and there are no guns in our hands, but something much more dangerous separates us. A man. Andy Kowalski.

Andy stands between Jack and me. We flank him, like guards, although neither of us touches him. Andy regards the photographer with disinterest, his handsome face perfectly composed as if he is alone in front of a mirror. Once again I think of animals and children and how they lack the fear of being betrayed by the camera. Andy Kowalski is something of both.

These two photographs, taken decades apart, roughly mark the beginning and the end of my relationship with Jack. With Andy, too, although our time together was only half as long. Both friendships were laid to rest when I came to Maine to start my life over again, when I left behind everything I knew and everything I was, to become something else.

But the past has apparently decided not to stay buried. Jack's call has opened a door I thought to be long shut and locked. Now it stands open, waiting for me to walk through. When I look beyond it, though, all I see is a room filled with dusty boxes, boxes best left unopened.


Thayer's voice, soft and sleepy as it is, startles me. He comes into the office and puts his hands on my shoulders.

"What are you doing up so early? When I woke up and you weren't there, I thought maybe my mama was right after all and the Rapture had come and Jesus had swept you into his bosom. I was afraid you'd left Sam and me to face the army of hell all on our own."

"Somehow I think I'm the last one Jesus would sweep into his bosom if he came back," I tell him. "And even if he did, I think you and Sam would do just fine against Satan and his hordes."

"Sam maybe," says Thayer, leaning over my shoulder. "He's a tough old boy. But I'd be the first one on my knees letting 'em brand me with the Number of the Beast."

He picks up the photographs. "Who are these handsome gentlemen?"

I sigh. Although he knows the basic outline of my life's story, Thayer has heard very few of the details. Not because I fear knowing them would change how he feels about me, but simply because I've never felt the need to tell them.

"That is a long and complicated tale," I answer.

"Well, apparently it's interesting enough that it got you out of bed. And now I'm up, too, so I think it's only fair that you tell me," Thayer says. "I'll go put the coffee on."

He leaves me alone with the photos and with the memories that are starting to push their way into my thoughts. Do I really want to tell him about Jack and Andy? Can I even remember it all and make some sense of it? I teach history to my students, but my own is one I'm not sure that I'm completely qualified to relate. I fear that given my role in the events, I'm an unreliable narrator. At best, my memories are tarnished by years spent trying to erase them, so that what remain are faded, possibly beyond recognition.

Still, I find that part of me wants to tell the story. Maybe, I think, it will help me decide what to do about what Jack has called to tell me. More likely, it will simply resurrect old ghosts. Either way, Thayer is waiting downstairs with coffee, and I find that I can no longer sit up here alone.

I leave the photos behind and descend the creaky staircase to the first floor. The smell of coffee scents the air, and the kitchen is comfortingly lit. The doorway glows, and through it I see Thayer setting two mugs on the table. Sam has followed him downstairs and has stretched himself out on the floor. His tail thumps against the worn planks as I enter and sit down, and then he closes his eyes and settles back into sleep.

"All right," Thayer says, sitting down across from me. "Start talking."


Excerpted from Full Circle by Michael Thomas Ford Copyright © 2006 by Michael Thomas Ford. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Full Circle 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
GayMindCandyLover More than 1 year ago
While most Gay Authors leave something to desire in there depiction of the overall gay experience, Ford always manages to hit the nail right on the head. Once you read this book, you will want to check out other titles by Ford, Including: Changing Tides, Last Summer, and his soon to be released new title. Ford is a master of expressing the true feelings and emotions that any gay and lesbian could have. The reader is left with the feeling that he or she knows the characters intimately, and you begin to care about them as if they are you friends. You will find this to be a great read, a quick one, but Mind candy is always good! I also recommend My Big Fat Queer Life! It's like having a dialogue with Ford himself. I found it to be irreverent, hysterical, and an intimate look at queer life through the eyes of the author, Michael Thomas Ford! Happy Reading Everyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The main characters of Ned, Jack & Andy are very compelling. Ned and Jack are friends from birth things get complicated as they reach college at the start of the draft for the Vietnam Conflict. These interactions are all aces. We are introduced to Andy at college and get to see some Vietnam reality...also all aces. Ned returns to 70's San Francisco...more good 'of the moment.' But here is where it stalled for me...PLEASE DON'T GET ME WRONG...I was physically incapable of putting this book down. But the 80's & 90's were a boar, Ford chronicles some of the fear, does a nice job on the reality of the 80's but doesn't use the characters to their fullest...the story seemed to get drawn out at that point and I just wanted Ned and Jack back. Their story is where it started and I needed more Ned and Jack to feel satisfied. Is it a good read...oh yeah. It is insightful of gay life of 60's-90's and shows a slice of 'the moment' to be gay and on the scene. Oh, something need to mention...I loved about this is that there were some sex scenes...but only as graphic as necessary, always appropriate to the story...not gratuitous sex...I just hate to see gay fiction turned into another quick short story book of porn...leave it to the porn publishers. Thank you Michael Thomas Ford, I enjoyed this read Greg L.
Guest More than 1 year ago
FULL CIRCLE is one of those books that satisfies on many levels. First, it is a novel about the struggles facing gay men from childhood to advanced age in a manner that reads more like a non-biased fiction story than most gay novels. Second, author Michael Thomas Ford writes well, allowing his complex story to unfold in elegant prose that takes as much time embracing the beauty of living as it does in depicting the sour notes of existing. And third, it serves as a fine historical survey of life in the US from the 1960s through the end of the century - no mean feat in itself, but when woven so carefully with the intertwining lives of the three main characters it becomes a scrapbook of memories both good and bad of the times in which we have lived.The plot is well outlined but other reviewers: suffice it to say it is the story of two close friends - Ned and Jack - whose childhood needs and differences bond them in a union that accompanies them through the coming out phase in college, through the bliss of a relationship, through the introduction of a third 'straight' young college man Andy who focuses his life on living at the expense of others but eventually becomes their communal lover, and accompanies the new triad through the horrors of Vietnam, of life in San Francisco and the era of drugs and free sex, of AIDS, of loss of loved ones, of impaired relationships, of the sociopolitical climate that resulted in the Act Up phase, through the fears and problems of the 1990s. It is the resilience of this friendship that carries the book through all of its avenues of the experiences that life challenges us all to survive or succumb. If there is a flaw in this long novel it is the author's tendency for name dropping, as though mentioning Bernadette Peters and Ileana Cotrubas etc will lend credence to the story: for this reader that is unnecessary information flaunting. A minor point this, but one that stops the eye from the otherwise generously warm and fascinating flow of a story very much worth telling. Reading FULL CIRCLE does indeed drive the reader to a hunger for reading the author's other books, and that is always a solid marker for evaluating a book. Grady Harp
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rarely in today¿s mass-market paperback world does a reader have an opportunity to savor the depth and breadth of a novel like Michael Thomas Ford¿s ¿Full Circle¿. Epic in scope while intimate in story, ¿Full Circle¿ chronicles nearly six decades in the lives of two longtime friends and sometimes lovers and the enigmatic third wheel who becomes a driving force in their lives. Ned Brummel and Jack Grace are inseparable boyhood friends growing up in a 1950¿s middle-class Philadelphia suburb. As they enter adolescence, they add sexual exploration to the usual teenage pastimes of scouting, star gazing, and comic books and seal a seemingly impenetrable bond. As the boys morph into men and enter their formidable college years, they meet the free-spirited and sexually ambiguous Andy Kowalski. With the shadow of the Vietnam War looming, Andy becomes the catalyst for bittersweet lessons in loyalty, betrayal, expectations, sexual identity, and the lasting bonds of love and friendship. The book follows the three friends through the ensuing thirty years, as they encounter an eclectic and thoroughly believable cast of secondary characters who crisscross the various intersections of their lives. Ford, the author of the immeasurably pleasurable ¿Last Summer¿ and ¿Looking For It¿, has hit a creative stride with ¿Full Circle¿ and reaches a career highpoint in what those earlier novels promised to be an enduring literary career. ¿Full Circle¿ is a marvelous interweaving of page-turning fiction and gay history, where a memorable cast of characters weave in and out of a sweeping tapestry of imagined personal events set against an epic historical canvas. Indeed, history is at the core of ¿Full Circle¿, both in narrative and theme. Readers are treated to fascinating backdrops of war-torn Vietnam, San Francisco¿s golden-age of sexual liberation, and AIDS-ravaged New York while celebrating the lives of the characters who live, love, and die amidst the history unfolding all around them. Ford has an uncanny talent for creating moments of candid intimacy, as in the heartbreakingly poignant scene where Ned¿s homosexuality is finally acknowledged by his mother. The poignancy of the novel is balanced with tongue-in-cheek nods to pop culture that harken back to Ford¿s earlier writings, and it is a pure joy to watch the characters marvel at the shoulder-padded delight of ¿Dynasty¿ or discover a serialized newspaper column about an unconventional group of San Franciscans written by a guy named Maupin. But at the heart of Ford¿s skillful blend of sentimentality, history, and humor is the idea of community and how gay men, in particular, come to rely on the steadfastness of that kinship with others that stretches beyond biological families. With ¿Full Circle¿, Ford graduates from the ubiquitous ¿beach read¿ literary category to the more meritorious ¿rainy weekend read¿. And, at the end of this accomplished novel, readers will undoubtedly pray for more rain.
fingerpost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My take on "Full Circle" may be different from most others as it is a novel clearly intended for a gay male audience. As a hetero male, I would naturally read it differently. I have a brother who is gay, and several close friends who are gay, which I suppose influenced my decision to read the book in the first place."Full Circle" is written in a memoir-like style. It is very easy to feel close to the narrator, Ned. He is likeable, somewhat reserved most of the time, and usually looking out for the welfare of his friends and lovers over his own. The story opens in the present - 2007 I suppose, since that was it's publication date - with Ned nearing 60 years old, living a quiet peaceful life in Maine with his partner Thayer. He has shut out his past for many years, but a phone call from his childhood best friend, and first lover, Jack, sends him into emotional turmoil, and he tells Thayer his life story. The story can be broken into several segments: childhood, adolescence and discovery of his homosexuality (late 50s early 60s), college, service in Vietnam, living the gay lifestyle of San Francisco in the 70's, coping with the AIDS crisis in New York in the 80's, and then we skip the 90s and return to the present as Ned finishes telling the story to his partner, and goes off to Chicago to face his demons and conclude the book.I was born in 1965, so the character of Ned was a little ahead of me. In addition to the great story, I learned a little about gay culture history in the US from the book. I read one negative critique that complained that Ned met everyone in gay history, was at every gay historical event, and lived every gay man's fantasies. I didn't know much about the San Francisco scene of the 70s, and during the 80s I recall the AIDS crisis as a tragic news event. But amazingly, to this day I don't know anyone who died from it or whose close loved ones died from it. Those chapters touched me the most. Ned volunteers for an organization that delivers lunches to home-bound AIDS patients in New York, and for several years he makes regular visits to John, a queen who lived for opera. Though a minor character, John's death was the saddest moment in the book for me, and left me in tears.We never get to know Thayer, which disappointed me. I immediately liked him in the opening chapter, but since Ned is telling his history to Thayer - there is no reason for him to relate the years that they had been together. I doubt there would be much appeal in "Full Circle" for most female or heterosexuals, but that's kind of sad. I feel like I have a slightly better understanding of what my brother and my gay friends have experienced emotionally in their lives, and since finishing the book a few days ago, I have frequently found myself thinking about its events and characters, which is surely a sign of good fiction.
silversurfer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A full scale epic journey of the friendship of two gay men, spanning 50 years, from early childhood, through their teens, adulthood and beyond. This is a grand, sweeping novel of friendship,love, laughter, tears and heartbrake in the tradition of FELICE PICANO's "LIKE PEOPLE IN HISTORY". Mr Ford writes with such honesty and truthful emotion that I found myself re-reading passages just for the beauty of his prose. This is a great book.
ElTomaso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fictional memoir of a gay mans life. What a relief to find good gay literature that is not one more coming of age/teen angst love story!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
a very heartwarming realistic story. I am glad that I did not grow up in the 50's or 60's