I’ve had this page open for two hours now, struggling to appropriately string together words coherent enough to explain how this book made me feel. But I guess even that silence speaks volumes.
Since completing the book, I’ve been on an internet deep-dive; exploring the life of Garrard post-memoir, learning more about conversion therapies and the legalities around it, reading reviews of the book, watching the film… It’s been a lot and I find myself still wrapped up in the world this book has crafted around me. But that’s okay, it’s become an incredible learning moment for me. Though I knew conversion camps were a very real thing and existed in the same world as I do, I have lived in a privileged enough position to never need to know about the goings-on of the camp itself.
Conley takes us readers on a riveting journey deep into the depths of the Bible belt of Arkansas, highlighting key points in his sexual awakening and the double lives those living in traditionalist religious households too often lead. He runs his fingers along the spine of his small Baptist community, often being snagged by their own hidden fault-lines. Unbeknownst to his father, the pastor of this very community, Conley skilfully puts on an uncomfortable display of a community at the brink of unravelling under the weight of all its secrets. Though the memoir focuses heavily on Conley’s experiences of being gay and its subsequent consequences, he writes with a flair which captures the readers and easily allows us to slip into his shoes and consider the (perceived) weight of our own transgressions and all the ways in which we are more forgiving towards others but quick to shame our own selves.
Boy Erased is a heavy book. It is not for everyone, but it writes about all the things we brush under the carpet as a society and therefore, for everyone. If it makes you uncomfortable when you’re reading it, then good. It’s supposed to. Let Conley take you out of your comfort zone and into a whole other world where you’re alienated and considered other for simply existing as yourself.