Background Reading for My Novel: “Dream Boy” by Jim Grimsley

Dream Boy

I recently finished Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley, the second book of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. The author’s Comfort & Joy I liked very much and it made me want to sample more by him. As much as I enjoyed the first book, Dream Boy proved to be even better. Both stories take place in the American South in the recent past. Grimsley grew up in North Carolina and has lived in Atlanta for many years so he obviously knows the mores and fabric of this area very well. Both books deal with the struggles gay men growing up in the South have to endure.

While Comfort & Joy takes place primarily in Atlanta and deals with the difficulties two grown men who love one another must face, the earlier published Dream Boy by contrast focuses on two teenage boys living next door to each other in rural North Carolina. The physical attraction that develops between the two is almost immediate and very profound. The shy, bright Nathan, younger by two years, has recently moved into town with his parents. Roy, the farm boy next door, has a steady girlfriend and is popular in school although academics are definitely not his strength.  The secret love affair that develops between the two teenagers comes at a dear price for Nathan. Roy has made him swear to tell no on about it, obviously afraid or unwilling to admit to himself his true sexual identity. An important subplot to the novel is the relationship between Nathan and his alcoholic, religious zealot father. Early in the book the author hints that there is something seriously wrong between the two but the disturbing nature of their relationship is only later revealed. Before the story’s end, tragic events happen. I will refrain from revealing the details but the conclusion will lead most readers feeling shocked and sad, possibly in tears.

This is by no means a feel good book. It is disturbing and by the final pages the reader may be wondering the specifics of just what has or has not happened. But the story and characters that Grimsley creates in less than 200 pages are truly unforgettable. Enticing, entrancing, powerful, moving, violent, tragic, sparse, brilliantly crafted and executed, immensely satisfying. Those are just a few of the phrases that I would use to describe this work. It is beyond question one of the most compelling though heart-breaking books I have read in a long time.

The story was adapted for the screen and had a limited release in 2008 receiving mostly positive reviews and starring Stephan Bender as Nathan and Maximillian Roeg as Roy.

Thank you Jim for this jewel of a book and for helping me to become a better writer.

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