Winner – 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award – LGBTQ
Shortlist – 2011 Independent Literary Award – LGBTQ
Gabriel Travers knows he’s dying; he just can’t prove it. Despite his doctor’s proclamations to the contrary and rumors of a promising new HIV drug cocktail, all it takes is one glance into the mirror to tell Gabe everything he needs to know. His ass, once the talk of West Hollywood, now looks suspiciously like a Shar-Pei, prompting even more talk around town.
Back in his 20’s, life had been so easy. Caught up in the 1980’s world of LOVE! MONEY! SEX!, Gabe thought he’d have it all. But every effort to better himself ended in self-sabotage, and every attempt at love left him with only a fake number, scrawled on a realtor’s notepad.
The only happiness he could remember was in high school, where he’d met Keith, his first love. Only Keith had recognized the goodness within, and knew of the brutal attack Gabe had faced, the effects of which still rule his life today.
Now almost 40, and with the clock ticking, Gabe begins to finally peel back the layers and tackle his demons – with a little help from the music of the Divine Miss M and his mom’s new wife, a country music-loving priest.
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.