January 30, 2012

Story For The New Depression...

"You know, dear, that you are my favorite person with a penis in the entire world. You are funny, sporadically caring, and smart. Perhaps too smart. That you are wrong, even occasionally, isn't the end of the world..."
- a semi-scolding given to Gabe Travers in Songs For The New Depression

Sometimes a book really works because it takes you to a whole different world. Other times a book really works because it feels like you are in your own familiar world, with a new perspective that makes you think and feel. For me, Songs For The New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout was that kind of involving, emotional read.

Songs is an AIDS novel and much more than that; with its reverse timeline and Bette Midler references (the title comes from one of her early albums), this is a really creative book. It's the story of Gabe Travers, a hyper-articulate, self-centred gay man in his 40s facing death and looking back... to a difficult childhood, lost loves, wounded friendships, racist pancakes and assorted sexual misadventures.

I've heard that just before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. There is an element of that here, as Gabe is looking back at his life with wistfulness and wit. This is an emotional and at times outright funny book. And it's an intimate one, and I don't mean that in a woo-hoo boys having sex kind of way, though it certainly has that. It is intimate in terms of being real and personal for someone of my age and generation, coming of age in the 80s (hello, Human League!), thinking about our loves and insecurities and loneliness and friendship and complicated families.

Gabe is a flawed person, and the writer's skill shows in making us care so much about someone who is not warm and fuzzy. Gabe is catty and cruel, makes mistakes, and is insecure and human and real.

While there are sections of Songs that are breezy fun, the book is tough to read at times, because I cared about the characters and they go through difficult stuff. But I couldn't put it down.

Songs For The New Depression touched me and stayed with me. It's a competitive publishing world out there, and this is a first novel put out by a small press. I hope it finds a big audience.

(A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. This review is my own. No compensation was received... Oreos would have been nice).


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