Review: Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrard Conley
Source: ARC courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via Goodreads First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: May 10, 2016 by Riverheard Books
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality.
When Garrard was a nineteen-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. Through an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of impure urges and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to break out in search of his true self and forgiveness.
By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
During my reading of Garrard Conley’s impeccably written, penetrative and disturbing Boy Erased, I could not help but marvel at his overwhelmingly compassionate, calm voice. Here is a young man, writing about (among many other things), his shocking experience at an ex-gay conversion centre, dealing with the intense fall-out of being outed to his parents in the most horrific of circumstance, and through it all, Conley remains evenly introspective, sensitive…humane.
While indeed a big portion of the memoir focuses on Conley’s time at the ex-gay conversion program (Love in Action) he was forced to attend, Boy Erased also deals intensively with Conley’s struggle for finding his own self, understanding his parents, his/their beliefs, questioning his Missionary Baptist faith and almost everything he had been raised to believe in his deeply conservative Arkansas town. Conley’s two weeks in the institutional program, his experiences growing up, trying to fit in college, as well as his time following his Baptist pastor father’s work, are (for lack of a better word), staggering. Conley, however, remains elegant in his writing, no matter what or who is being written about, and no matter how damaging or malicious the person or actions.
Overall, Boy Erased is a lyrical, beautifully written memoir that shows compassion, hope and love persevering through interminable darkness and abuse. It is an eye-opening read that illuminates as much as it also illustrates a startling degree of intolerance deeply pervasive in the world. With high praise and solid reviews coming in a variety of journals, Conley has indeed done incredibly with his memoir, drawing a calm voice to abhorrent experiences. I would highly recommend Conley’s memoir to any interested non-fiction/memoir readers, or those who are more specifically looking to read more about identity, heteronormativity, equal rights (and lack thereof), faith, conservatism and sexuality.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via Goodreads First Reads. All opinions and comments are my own.