My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I highly recommend Garrard Conley’s beautifully written and emotional memoir about his religious upbringing, sexuality, rape, and conversion therapy. The book varies in mood between rage and compassion, and Conley grounds these extremes of emotion with a matter-of-fact tone and lovely lyrical language. As his nearly two weeks in conversion therapy marches forward with steadily increasing tension, he takes frequent detours back to the past to describe the events that lead him there. The flashbacks are often fragments, with flashbacks leading into even earlier flashbacks. This technique is effective in showing how fragmented he became after years of stress and suffering until his life essential split into two separate and unsustainable ones while in college.
This is not only an emotional work, but a complexly emotional one that reveals aspects of conversion therapy, his religious upbringing, and the Southern setting that might be unfamiliar and surprising to many readers. For example, the compassion he has toward his parents, religious leaders, and the leaders and workers at Love in Action (LIA), including its leader John Smid, is paired with an undercurrent of rage, suggesting a narrator who is deeply spiritual and forgiving, but nevertheless hurt and angry, all of this at the same time. This powerfully conveys the reality of the trauma he suffered. There is something so horrifying about the bureaucracy of LIA, its application forms, its workbooks, its lesson plans and exercises, that seems both impossible and tragically real at the same time.
Many readers will bring to this book their own stories and experiences and will likely find parallels to their own lives. I certainly did. I’m very thankful to Conley for sharing these experiences in his memoir; this is a brave act, and I hope that the process has been positive and beneficial for his own wellbeing. No one should ever have to go through what Conley went through, but many do, and by being open and vulnerable about his own life, he helps shine a light on injustice, while also inspiring change and healing.