Songs for the New Depression
Screenwriter and director Kergan Edwards-Stout’s compelling, beautifully written debut novel, "Songs for the New Depression," examines three decades in the short life of Gabriel Travers, an AIDS-stricken California man who fails to recover emotionally from unfortunate events that transpired when he was an effeminate teen.
Named after an album by Bette Midler, "Songs for the New Depression" has all the trademark ingredients of gay men’s literature--a witty albeit troubled protagonist, his incorrigibly loyal female best friend, an emotionally absent father, a quirky yet lovable mom, and an incomparable first love. Despite the seemingly familiar premise, the author’s darkly comic, brutally honest prose reads like poetry and has a melodic flow that is equally funny and heartbreaking.
Told in reverse, beginning when our narrator is approaching forty and increasingly symptomatic, Gabe confronts death with sarcasm, insecurity and regret, much like how he has dealt with everything throughout life. Knowing his days are numbered should soften his disposition, but initially it has the reverse effect, as shown when best friend, Clare, writes him off after having had enough of his insensitive commentary, and when Gabe tries to dismiss his young lover, Jon, assuming he’ll eventually abandon him anyway once the disease takes over.
The next two parts paint a picture of Gabriel as a reckless, disenchanted twenty-something having evolved from a feisty high school teen, forever scarred by a hazing incident that exacerbates his already-strained relationship with his parents, and especially his father. Although he has Clare to confide in, Gabe only begins to truly understand friendship and unconditional love after becoming attached at the hip to his free-spirited, fellow classmate, Keith. Another pleasant version of Gabe surfaces later in life, upon meeting Pastor Sally, the object of his mother’s affection.
Readers will certainly empathize with Gabe, but most of the time, it’s hard to like him, perhaps because we all have someone like him in our lives, or recognize one or more of his traits in ourselves. Regardless of your opinion of him, Gabe’s story is bittersweet, heartfelt and profound.
Even with the grim backdrop of AIDS and a narrator of questionable character, "Songs for the New Depression" is a quintessential page-turner and the product of a truly gifted author.
"Songs for the New Depression"
by Kergan Edwards-Stout