Conley, Garrard. Boy Erased: A Memoir. Riverhead Books, 2016. 352 p. HC. $27. ISBN 978-1594633010
It’s a wonderful thing when a book grasps you within the first few paragraphs and keeps you enmeshed until its conclusion. That’s what Garrard Conley has achieved in a poetically-written account of his experiences with a Southern “ex-gay” ministry group. As the son of an Arkansas car salesman-turned-Baptist preacher, Conley had much to confront as he inwardly acknowledged his homosexuality, including layers upon layers of family complexity, but as he unspools his eventful journey, he brings readers deep into his mind and soul for a satisfying ride.
In 2004, at age 19, college student Garrard was outed to his parents, who ultimately steered him into a Bible-based 12-step program offered by the group Love In Action (LIA). He intersperses chapters depicting the daily group “therapy” sessions shared with his fellow not-wanting-to-be-LGBT-any-longer classmates, with sections describing how he arrived at that point: a church-based upbringing, including some sermon preaching of his own, early fleeting same-sex attractions, and more revelatory experiences in college, before a bad relationship led to harsh revelations for his parents. After many challenges and much internal pain, Conley finally breaks free of LIA and eventually finds familial reconciliation.
Conley’s descriptions and imagery are concise and expansive, often laced with humor and pathos. While I found his middle sections not quite as sharply focused as his opening chapters, on the whole, this book is a remarkable document, and a fine example of the “confessional memoir” genre. And for LGBT history buffs, Conley also includes a “Timeline of the Ex-Gay Movement.”
This book is highly recommended for LGBT biography/memoir collections, and possibly even for creative writing classes, as Garrard Conley shows us all how it’s done.
Dallas (TX) Public Library