Understanding Jim Grimsley
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98 pages

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The first book-length study of an influential voice in contemporary queer American literature

Since the early 1980s, Jim Grimsley has received increasing acclaim for his achievements in a variety of dramatic and literary genres. Through his novels, plays, and short stories, Grimsley portrays an unrelenting search for happiness and interrogates themes of corruption, technology, poverty, domestic abuse, sexuality, and faith in the contemporary United States. Through unique characters and a multitude of forms, the award-winning author explores the complexities of southern culture, his own troubled childhood, and larger pieces of the human experience.

In Understanding Jim Grimsley, David Deutsch offers the first book-length study of Grimsley's diverse work and argues for his vital role in shaping the contemporary queer American literary scene. Deutsch helps readers navigate the intricacies of Grimsley's influential drama, fiction, and fantasy science fiction—including his most popular novel, Dream Boy—by weaving together discussions of common themes. Placing Grimsley's plays, novels, and short stories in conversation with one another, Deutsch reveals Grimsley's development throughout a career in which he has investigated hope and hardship, youth and maturity, experimentation and convention. Deutsch also provides vital historical and cultural contexts for understanding how Grimsley engages, expands, and challenges literary and theatrical traditions.

Deutsch demonstrates a deep, critical understanding of Grimsley's hard-earned, pragmatic optimism. Intertwining Grimsley's major fiction and plays and contextualizing these within a broader American landscape, this volume brings his work more completely into the conversation on southern queer literature.



Publié par
Date de parution 02 janvier 2019
Nombre de lectures 2
EAN13 9781611179309
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,2100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Matthew J. Bruccoli, Founding Editor
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
David Deutsch

The University of South Carolina Press
2019 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found at http://catalog.loc.gov/ .
ISBN 978-1-61117-920-3 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-61117-930-9 (ebook)
Front cover photograph: Courtesy of Kay Hinton, Emory University Photography
For my husband, my mother, and my father
Series Editor s Preface
Chapter 1 Understanding Jim Grimsley
Chapter 2 The Tote-Crell Narratives
Chapter 3 Dream Boy
Chapter 4 Cities and Suburbs
Chapter 5 Fantasy and Science Fiction
Select Bibliography
The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931-2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue as new volumes are developed to fill in gaps among the nearly one hundred series volumes published to date and to embrace a host of new writers only now making their marks on our literature.
As Professor Bruccoli explained in his preface to the volumes he edited, because much influential contemporary literature makes special demands, the word understanding in the titles was chosen deliberately. Many willing readers lack an adequate understanding of how contemporary literature works; that is, of what the author is attempting to express and the means by which it is conveyed. Aimed at fostering this understanding of good literature and good writers, the criticism and analysis in the series provide instruction in how to read certain contemporary writers-explicating their material, language, structures, themes, and perspectives-and facilitate a more profitable experience of the works under discussion.
In the twenty-first century Professor Bruccoli s prescience gives us an avenue to publish expert critiques of significant contemporary American writing. The series continues to map the literary landscape and to provide both instruction and enjoyment. Future volumes will seek to introduce new voices alongside canonized favorites, to chronicle the changing literature of our times, and to remain, as Professor Bruccoli conceived, contemporary in the best sense of the word.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
My family is filled with great readers, and I am lucky that talking over books with them is a consistent part of my life. I owe a debt of gratitude to James A. Crank for suggesting that I propose this volume to the University of South Carolina Press and to Linda Wagner-Martin and to Jim Denton at the press for agreeing to include it in their Understanding series. I would also like to thank Anna McConnell, Jacob Crawford, and Anna Hill for their invaluable help with research and fact-checking for the manuscript. Since arriving at the University of Alabama, I have been fortunate to be in a department that welcomes a robust variety of research avenues with lively discussions and collegiality and to have students here who have been eager to discuss Grimsley s work with me. I am immensely grateful both to my colleagues and to these students. An earlier version of my thoughts on Boulevard appeared in LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory 28.4 (2017).
Understanding Jim Grimsley
Recalling his first experience reading Dream Boy , John L. Myers has reported that the first half of the night was spent inhaling the book, for this is not the kind of novel easily read, but more drunk in. The second half of the night, I sat up, alone, trying to figure out what it was I had just read. 1 By morning, Myers had concluded that he had experienced in the novel the keen eyes of the next generation of great Southern literature. 2 Myers s assessment has been echoed by the accolades that Grimsley has gained from myriad theater patrons, reviewers, and readers. Attracting audiences both popular and scholarly, Grimsley provides a powerful, long-standing voice that insists on the socioeconomic, the sexual, and the racial diversity of the new New South of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and on its rightfully prominent role in American literature and culture.
The South and southern social structures loom large in Grimsley s work, but his career-long investigations into rural poverty, cycles of domestic violence, a Christian-influenced spirituality, and an anticipation of powerful pleasures amid powerful pain touch chords that reach beyond region or nationality. Grimsley s earliest novels were published in Europe before a U.S. publisher took them on, although his plays have long found ready audiences in the regional urban theaters of the United States. Grimsley s widespread appeal undoubtedly has to do with what Dorothy Allison has identified as his emphasis on choosing compassion and love, without compromising what is all too painfully known, in both literature and in life. 3 With this focus, Grimsley interrogates generally tragic circumstances and national and even international themes of economic alienation, commercial corruptions, domestic abuse, frequently repressed yet perennially present sexualities, reluctantly revised traditions, institutionalized religion, and an evolving faith in a troubled yet unrelinquished hope for self-improvement. While this analytic overview might suggest cold calculations, Grimsley presents these investigations without ever losing sight of the emotional and psychological trauma that tragic circumstances inflict on individuals and on families, the latter increasingly appearing in their modern embodiments, particularly with regard to same-sex romantic relationships. Grimsley s work draws on these situations and these relationships to evoke the complications of companionship in a carefully constructed fashion that maintains narrative swiftness without sacrificing a critical formal experimentalism. Avoiding opaqueness or an obtuse obscurity, Grimsley unfailingly shapes unusual narrative forms and styles in order to enhance the psychological and intellectual depth of his characters and to imagine how the fluidity of time and memory influences the attainment of a pragmatic, never idealized happiness.
As Grimsley s novels and plays appear with increasing frequency in bookstores, on award lists, on college syllabi, and, somewhat more slowly, in academic articles and books, it seems useful to embrace the personal, emotional, often comforting mystery that his writing provokes and simultaneously to analyze the key themes and the key aesthetic strategies engaged by his diverse body of work. Since so much of Grimsley s early writing draws from his childhood environment, a concise critical biography offers a solid first step to understanding his art.
Jim Grimsley was born on September 21, 1955, to Mary Brantham and Jasper Jack Grimsley, joining an older sister, Jackie, and preceding two brothers, Jasper and Brian. While Jim was born in Rocky Mount, a small town in rural eastern North Carolina, his family soon moved to Pollocksville, North Carolina, a still smaller town surrounded by narrow roads and wide fields and by the massive Croatan National Forest. The move occurred because Jasper Grimsley had taken a job as foreman on a local farm. Initially, this seemed a propitious opportunity for the family as the job came with a somewhat respectable status and a better pay package than one could earn driving trucks or assuming less managerial labor roles. 4 This potentially upward movement ended with a horrific reversal, however, when the elder Grimsley stuck his hand into a still-moving cornpicker and consequently lost his arm. To compound this loss, he was fired from his job as foreman and had to take work as a delivery man for a local propane company, curtailing severely the family s income. These events, Grimsley later recalled, permanently embittered his father, a sometimes hard worker who increasingly proved himself to be an alcoholic, a wife-beater, and a schizophrenic descending gradually into madness, all traits that were simply additions to the color of his reputation for local townspeople but were the source of anxiety, fear, and outright abuse for his family. 5
Humor, Grimsley observed, provided a bonding mechanism that helped his family to cope with his father s violence. Contemplating the terrible things that could happen to Grimsley when he went out that might prevent him from coming home gave the family a shared catharsis in an odd conflation of horror and relief. 6 This familial sense of the absurd echoed in a distorted fashion both the local society s and the local authorities seeming acceptance of domestic cruelty, provided it was not taken too far, too publicly. These groups, Grimsley found, seemed to believe that men in their homes had not only the right but almost a duty to curtail women who behaved badly or who got erratically overexcited, a myopic and self-serving belief that often allowed onlookers to ignore or discount women s reports of particularly egregious brutalities. 7 Despite these hardships, Grimsley s mother stayed in her marriage in part because of the stigma attached to divorce and undoubtedly in part because of the difficulty of supporting a family on the bit of extra money a woman without a college education could earn, especially in Pollocksville and rural Jones County. 8 Grimsley s

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