Book review: A memoir you won’t soon forgetBookwatch, Online Only, Section 4A Sunday, September 4th, 2016
You’ll never forget your first kiss, for instance. You’ll always remember your favorite teacher and lessons learned. The day you got your pet, a delicious meal eaten, a great vacation, all burned into your mind. And, as you’ll see in Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley, you’d never forget the ultimatum your father gave you.
From the time he was in fifth grade, Garrard Conley understood that he was a sinner.
It became apparent with the thrill he got looking at men’s underwear, and the fantasies he had about other boys. Those things made his stomach flip-flop, and chilled his soul: “the increasingly blurry God” he’d known all his life would surely send him straight to hell for being a homosexual.
Or, at least that’s what his parents believed. Being gay was one of the worst things imaginable in Conley’s Baptist church; his father had received a call to serve the Lord, making homosexuality an even worse “stain” on their family.
Conley tried to will his sexuality away by having a girlfriend, a God-fearing “girl of his dreams” who came from the same Ozarks church community. Somewhat repulsed by her, he tried to ignore his gayness, begging God to take it away.
But it didn’t work. At college, Conley met a boy who outed him, then left him with his shame. Told by his father to accept a “cure” or leave his home, family, and education 19-year-old Conley finally agreed to check himself into Love in Action (LIA), a Memphis “nondenominational fundamentalist … organization” affiliated with Focus on the Family, a “treatment” facility that would “fix” his sexuality.
“I could never count the number of times I’d sinned against God,” Conley said, but LIA made him do it; he was asked to investigate family sins, and remember things he needed to forget. He knew he was facing years of constant prayer and shame without his journal, literature, or worldly ideas he’d begun to embrace in college; he was suicidal, angry, and he was still gay – but suddenly, with an unlikely source of support …
Boy Erased is one of those books that’ll make you think. And think, and think.
Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley
c.2016, Riverhead Books
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
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