Everything was suddenly different, but what had just happened would not fall into place in my mind. The circuitry had never been laid for this — like learning a foreign language. The verbs were reversed with the nouns and the vowels were crashing into the consonants and every adverb and adjective had turned into a jumbling semantic puzzle. Everything that happened was like finding a new word for a meaning you had already assigned to something else, and this frantic switch-around exploded the normal. Words flew off the page and refused to come back. They could not be reigned in and disobeyed my thoughts. They could not be harnessed. They flew like bats at dusk. My heart flew with them. I had entered a new plane, and nothing would ever be the same again — thank the Lord Almighty!
That’s Bernie/Henry, the main character, discovering what a kiss can be like. Ryan Rhodes’ novel Free Electricity gives a loving tribute to the young gay men who were tortured through BYU’s aversion therapy program. A central theme is that they are/were human individuals whose suffering should not silently become a footnote in a dusty history book, dismissed and forgotten. And while the primary romance in the story is a tragedy, the tale as a whole is a beautiful and poetic — even playful and fun — celebration of life. Read more
Various Amazon reviews: The real prize of the story, though, starts as Bernie begins to discuss his mission to Argentina and his return home where he matriculates into the LDS church operated Brigham Young University. Rhodes creates the best description of what it means to be gay and Mormon that I have read, and as founder of the Gay Mormon Literature Project, I have read them all. Bernie enters BYU where his experiences illuminate what it was like attending "the Lord's university" during the early 1970's. I personally recognized this portrait because the character, Bernie, arrived on campus just as I graduated and departed in real life. Later Bernie discovers other graduates and finds out there was another "gay BYU" of which he did not have an inkling. The two very different takes on gay life at BYU that are both spell binding. For me, taken as a whole: being a student at BYU, finding and loving Fin, and what comes after, all presented in the context of Mormon culture and teaching and manipulation and control are just ... devastating? heart breaking? sobering? revealing? They have touched me to the core.
Stong writing, and a compelling story. The best part is about 200 pages in when the narrator describes his life as a student at Brigham Young University. He also explains in convincing detail just WHY so many people have such a hard time leaving a religion they know is hurting them. His discussion of Mormon psychology alone makes the book a must-read, but it is the sweet and painful story of innocence destroyed that is the real meat of the novel. While my husband was living in Salt Lake in the 1970's, his bishop tried to get him to undergo electroshock therapy at BYU. Thankfully, my husband refused. Far too many others, however, were brutally coerced into torture, all in the name of love. It is vitally important that this atrocity is not brushed under the rug.
This book is very moving. It's also educational and intriguing. About 40% of the way through it becomes so intriguing it's hard to put down. If you like a good story read this. Anyone who has ever struggled to understand Mormons--especially gay Mormons--should read this. Mormons who love someone gay should read it. This book should be required reading for gay Mormons, many of whom know little about the past. "Free Electricity" not only educates--it fascinates. It's been four days since I finished the book and I can't stop thinking about it. It's tragic and beautiful in a heartbreaking way. I'm glad this story is being told. It should be read and never forgotten. If you read it, you won't be able to forget.