A debut novel about leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the beginning of Rhodes’ thoughtful, engrossing novel, 60-something Bernie’s friends screen a movie for him. The unnamed film (apparently patterned on the real-life 2003 feature Latter Days) depicts two attractive young men—one Mormon, one not—who struggle against the Mormon church’s strictures against homosexuality. Bernie’s friends know of his long history with Mormonism, and they expect the movie to provoke strong reactions. But they’re caught off guard by just how strong those reactions are, as the film dredges up violent, long-repressed memories. The bulk of the novel consists of Bernie’s protracted reminiscences of his long, complicated and sometimes-dark dealings with his former church; the book’s title is a bitter allusion to the reported practice of using electroshock “therapy” on gay communicants. Bernie agonizes all over again about how he discovered his own nature, thinking at one point that “any rapt God listening to my heart would have seen past my words into my deepest wish—to find another boy just like me.” In the course of his recollections, readers meet such a boy—Bernie’s great love, Fin—and their relationship forms the heart of the book: “My life had been beautiful with him,” Bernie recalls. Through Bernie’s personal story, Rhodes gives readers a panoramic, quite affecting look at the experience of growing up a gay Mormon (“Queer,” Bernie reflects at one point. “It just hung menacingly in the air now. It didn’t mean weirdo anymore”). It also includes Bernie’s “exit stories,” detailing the often fraught psychological process of leaving the faith. The narrative veers frequently into a low-key bitterness against Mormonism that will certainly win it no converts, but as an X-ray look inside the modern church, this book could scarcely be bettered.
A powerful tale of one man’s contentious, lifelong relationship with his faith.