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on January 3, 2012
Kergan Edwards-Stout's first novel, "Songs for the New Depression" is the kind of book we need more of in the world of modern gay literature. For a man of my generation, reading about AIDS is difficult, because we lived through the epidemic as it first began to emerge on our collective radar, before we understood the horrific toll it would take on our lives and our community. There were a lot of these books in the 1990s, but we have begun to turn away from those dark topics in our literature, and I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing. Edwards-Stout's book seems to affirm my doubt. It is a beautiful book, and, I think, an important one.

Edwards-Stout is a gifted writer; the unusual reverse-linear structure of the book and the author's ability to use words is central to the pleasure of reading what is a sometimes harrowing, sometimes merely heartbreaking story. But the great surprise, and perhaps the author's greatest gift to the reader, is the laugh-out loud humor, most of which is in the voice of the central protagonist, Gabriel. Gabe is a deeply flawed person; but the reader has no problem seeing the potential there. This is a character you can imagine having as your difficult best friend - someone you love, but can never quite reach.

Edwards-Stout draws from personal experience here, and thus he presents us with a story that is both heartfelt and authentic. It may be a work of fiction, but it is also a work of great truth; emotionally, historically, and psychologically. The NY Times ought to be reviewing "Songs for the New Depression," not the likes of me.
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on December 2, 2011
This was an incredible World AIDS Day for me as I finished Kergan Edwards-Stout's moving debut novel that tackled the AIDS epidemic head-on by giving his readers a person to attach to this disease. Where Edwards-Stout excels so brilliantly is not turning his protagonist into a martyr. He has written a complex, flawed man (with a book peppered with enough humor to cut through the inevitable) that readers can identify with and not place on a pedestal to simply admire and revere. The book is told in such a unique way as we travel through points in Gabriel Travers' life to see crucial defining moments. It tackles themes of love, searching for acceptance, and the all important question of why gay men can be so `cutting' and `nasty' as they respond to people and situations. I found myself comparing each of Gabe's decades to my own life and questioning choices I have made - and isn't that what a good book should do? Songs for the New Depression will stay in your mind after you close the page the same way the Divine Miss M's music lingers in your ears when the record stops playing.
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on November 14, 2011
Gabe Travers is a gay man approaching his 40th birthday, which he knows he is unlikely to reach because he has exhausted the available HIV medications without success. With the inevitable passage of time a constant reminder of his situation, Gabe barely copes with his job with a Los Angeles AIDS service non-profit, through which he met his (now ex) boyfriend Jon, whom Gabe realizes he drove away with his bitter attitude, the same as his longtime friend Claire.

"Songs for the New Depression" (The title comes from a Bette Midler album, which was one of Gabe's favorites) is one of the more unique novels I have read in some time, in that the story is told in reverse chronological order. The book is in three parts, with the first an introduction to Gabe in his alternately bitchy and introspective final days. The second goes back almost ten years, with a promiscuous 20-something Gabe enjoying the buffet of sexual variety L.A. offered in the 80's, and continued to engage in such risky behavior even after AIDS became a known reality. Finally, the third part of the book goes back to Gabe's high school days in the mid 70's, a time when his crush on a boy (one that would last into adulthood) was overshadowed, and perhaps doomed, by constant homophobic bullying, including a physical assault that devastated his self-esteem.

While featuring engaging characters, this emotionally-riveting novel isn't easy to read, between the reverse time line (which likely adds to the overall impact of the book) and the details of what the younger Gabe had to endure. Still, it is well-written and an important story to tell, in reminding us of the possible lifetime effect of being bullied as a gay teen. Five stars out of five.
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on November 22, 2011
From the moment you look at the cover, you may sense you're in for a journey. And a hell of a ride is what you get. This 3-part narrative told in reverse order traces the final days of Gabriel Travers as he confronts not only his impending AIDS-related death, but the life that brought him to this point. We travel back to Gabe's high school years where a traumatic event ultimately shapes much of the man he is to become--for better or worse. Author Edwards-Stout has fashioned a cynical and sarcastic, love-him, hate-him, yet redeemable character that would give Augusten Burroughs a run for his money. While this debut novel will undoubtedly appeal to gay audiences, it would be fair to say that there are universal and relevant themes for all explored in Songs for the New Depression... We all struggle. We all seek a greater understanding of things we don't understand. And many of us seek some sort of redemption. While there are many ideas explored here, some are timeless, others are the makings of the headlines of our contemporary culture--a seemingly never-ending battle for GLBT affirmation, understanding and compassion.
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on November 5, 2012
The great Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron has said "Pain, instead of being something to avoid, can actually bring us closer to the truth." How well Kergan Edwards-Stout understands this fundamental idea. His "Songs for the New Depression" is quite possibly the bravest writing I've ever encountered. In an era of Oprah and Deepak and all things feel-good, Edwards-Stout dares to give us a protagonist who faces pain and causes pain, time and time again, and is difficult to love on his best day. Edwards-Stout writes with unrestrained perspicacity, revealing the deep dark places where cave spiders dwell, and which exist in every one of us. As difficult as Gabriel Travers is to love, we all see ourselves in him, if we're actually being rigorously honest. That's what makes this reading experience so satisfying, and our relationship with Gabe authentically intimate. "Songs for the New Depression" transcends genre literature/gay literature. It is quite simply powerful literature.
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on June 19, 2012
Songs for the New Depression weaves a poignant tale that will resonate in your heart and mind long after the book is shelved and forgotten. Gabey, in his diction or style or appearance or expression or inadequacy and weakness of confidence or spirit, sadly portrays the nurtured traits within many of us molded from our years of harboring guilt and shame. The story recalls a horrible epoch and the devastating individual and collective losses we sustained. Throughout the read, faces of long-ago friends sacked away deep in the recesses of my mind unexpectedly reappeared. And that saddened me. But the redeeming quality I found in the theme of this book is the prospective and direction it lays out--the call to embrace and love each other more wholly.
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on April 1, 2012
In Songs for the New Depression, Kergan Edwards-Stout takes us back to the days of the AIDS pandemic. We follow Gabriel Travers on his journey to find love and (self-) acceptance in but we follow him in reverse beginning with the current third of Gabe's life and then backwards to the first third just after coming out in high school. This is an emotionally engaging read, often difficult at parts especially for those who have watched a loved one being ravaged by an incurable illness. Yet, it is a must read; very moving and poignant yet balanced with the right amount of humor as not to leave the reader depressed, or make light of Travers' quest. Edwards-Stout pulls the reader in with his very real characters, scene descriptions, and keeps the reader turning page after page.
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This is a story that I shall never forget; the first part made me laugh, cry, and then sob in public. The second and third parts gripped me and traveled into my heart and mind. It's a reminder of the 80's and the horrible disease of AIDS. For so many trapped in this disease, they could see no future. Everyone needs to love and be loved, yet politics and bigotry make obscene jokes of those who are different. They are NOT different. Kergan Edwards-Stout is am amazing man, father, and author. His writing style expresses honesty, openness, humor, and tenderness. I'm glad I read his novel and it only spurs my endeavors to seek equality for all, where others only seek to alienate themselves from those whom they judge to be unworthy. NO ONE is unworthy of love.
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on February 18, 2012
Kergan Edwards-Stout's Songs for the New Depression pulled me in immediately with its honesty, humor, and intimacy. I opened the book thinking it would be something interesting to read over the course of the next couple of weeks and instead devoured it quickly. The author weaves in psychology, spirituality, trauma, life & death, and redemption all in the course of 252 beautifully written pages. The main character, Gabe, is flawed, but lovable. He is a believable character -- a human being, someone who is doing the best he can and not always succeeding. In this story, we see all sides of love - what it means to seek it, find it, discard it, misunderstand it, and honor it. Kergan Edwards-Stout shows that it's possible for any of us to start at the shallow end of the pool and find our way to the depths.
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on January 18, 2014
Songs for the New Depression is an excellent read.

In it, Edwards-Stout takes us on a journey (in reverse chronological order) of a boy that lost his innocence when abandoned in his darkest hour by one of the most important figures in his life.

The author takes an interesting approach to his novel (interesting, and necessary) by telling the story backwards. We meet the protag and wonder why he's such an ass. The end of the book answers that question. When we get the answer to the question: Why is the protag such an ass?, we find that that's not really the question at all. It is, in fact, the answer. We find the protag suffered immensely in his youth only to turn out in a way that made the most sense.

I like this form of gay literature because it has such a strong sense of reality to it. In a way, I think gay literature is more likely to accurately present reality than more mainstream fiction - largely because we need that. The straight community looks at us, shaking its head, and doesn't really understand. Books like this help them understand.

As an interesting, and disappointing, irony this book's main readership will be the gay community that already "gets it" as opposed to the straight community who really needs it and would turn its back on a book like this for something else.

I think the thing I liked most about this book was the beautiful nature of the prose. It reminded me a lot of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I like beautiful literature. This certainly fits that category.
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