Posts tagged “book review

7 Years Ago, My first Review…

It’s hard to believe, but seven years ago I received the first review for my debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, from Kirkus Reviews (“The World’s Toughest Book Critics”). I was floored:

“Edwards-Stout’s engaging debut introduces sassy, outspoken Gabe Travers, a sarcastically witted, near-40, Southern California guy whose homosexuality ‘has never been an issue’ and whose particular fondness for Paris, France, and Bette Midler has carried him through some of life’s more challenging episodes (the book’s title is from Midler’s 1976 song collection).

Told from Travers’ first-person perspective, the story moves in reverse, chronicling his death in the first pages before moving to his adult life struggling with HIV and on to his adventuresome youth. Edwards-Stout excels at characterization, cleverly arming his plucky protagonist with a contagious combination of wit and droll self-deprecation. Travers skillfully navigates each stage of his life, from a young, spirited gay man to a paranoid adult whose mortality hinges on the dormancy of a fatal virus, all the while keeping his pride and wry sense of humor remain beautifully intact.

Drawn from his experiences as an AIDS caregiver and the surviving partner of an AIDS victim, Edwards-Stout infuses reality and hopefulness into a bittersweet story about compassion and personal growth. A distinctively entertaining gay novel written with moxie and bolstered by pitch-perfect perspectives.”

Terrific New Review of “Songs for the New Depression”: Out in Print Queer Book Review

I’m so appreciative when a review ‘gets’ my novel.  The lead character isn’t easy to like, so when a reviewer or reader understands his tale and embraces it, as Out in Print has done, it means the world to me.

Songs for the New Depression Review by Out in Print Queer Book Review

Buy it now.

I don’t have to like the narrator of a novel to be engaged with it. Empathy certainly helps, but it isn’t necessary. I can think of many wonderful books narrated by extremely dislikeable characters—one of my all-time favorites, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, being the obvious front-runner. Gabriel Travers, the protagonist of Songs for the New Depression is no Ignatius J. Reilly, but he’s a despicable character telling a marvelous story.

Gabe, a caustic, suspicious, mistrustful cynic, is dying of AIDS, cared for by his boyfriend, Jon—who is the only person Gabe is unable to alienate. He has nothing but scorn for his parents, Lenny and Gloria, his best girlfriend Clare and the many tricks he has encountered. In every exchange that calls for compassion or at least civility, Gabe manages to be sour, mean and utterly unlikeable—which is what makes Songs for the New Depression so damn fascinating.

The book is structured in a reverse linear fashion, each of its three sections mirroring a song from Bette Midler’s third album, “Songs for the New Depression.” It begins with Gabe in 1995 (the song is “Shiver Me Timbers”), suffering from AIDS and trying to have a marvelous European vacation with Jon as he tires and eventually gives out. The second part of the book takes us to 1986 (the song is “Samedi et Vendredi”), Gabe in his twenties—trying on and discarding faces and friends as he seeks to find his place in the gay scheme of things. The third part takes place in 1976 (the song is “Let Me Just Follow Behind”), and Gabe is in high school, recovering from an abusive incident alluded to in the previous sections but explored in depth here.

This reverse structure is brilliant. Layers of the adult Gabe are peeled back, but rather than revealing the root cause of his cynicism—as common sense would dictate the author do—Edwards-Stout instead reveals that Gabe has always been like this and was, in fact, worse when he was younger, for no apparent reason. Sometimes he gets close to being human, but he always ends up saying the bitter thing rather than the right thing.

But the bitter thing is, many times, the telling thing. The trenchant observation. The unutterable truth that no one else dare speak because its very blasphemy underlies a fundamental veracity. In this, Gabe is fearless—refusing to sugarcoat or varnish his words to spare anyone’s feelings. It is his largest gift and his biggest fault.

Full of wit, wisdom and woe, Songs for the New Depression is an ugly yet irresistible piece of fiction. Buy it for someone you hate.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

“Alfred Lives Here” Review: “Songs for the New Depression”

Eternally grateful that Songs for the New Depression is finding a place in the hearts of its readers.  Alfred Lives Here, a fun blog about pop culture and nominated for the 2011 Canadian Weblog Awards, gave it a wonderful review, and I much appreciate it!

Alfred Lives Here:  A Touching 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-centered 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 by Author Carey Parrish: “Songs for the New Depression”

I’m really overjoyed that Songs for the New Depression seems to be striking such a chord in readers–particularly when they happen to be authors themselves!

A Masterpiece of Modern Literature by Carey Parrish

It isn’t often I read a book that touches my soul, but that is exactly what happened with Songs for the New Depression. Author Kergan Edwards-Stout has crafted a story that is beautiful, tragic, and consuming. Once you start this one, you won’t be able to stop. And keep some tissues handy.

Meet Gabriel Travers. A man approaching 40, Gabe is ill with HIV and he thinks he’s dying; no, he knows he’s dying. Nobody believes him but he knows it. His life hasn’t been everything he wanted it to be, but whose has, eh? The world he lived in back in the 80’s is something he recalls fondly but which in the present day is a mere memory and a passel of regrets. He never found true love. He never became what he thought he wanted to be.

He lets his thoughts drift back to his high school days and the first love of his life, Keith. Keith was perhaps the only person who knew the potential Gabe possessed and it was with Keith, and only Keith, that Gabe shared the savagery of an attack that has left him scarred ever since.

Gabe’s story is one of personal redemption. In what he believes to be the finality of his life, he at last sets out on the journey of self discovery that will hopefully rid him of his regrets and put to rest the bitterness of a past that he’s never been able to shed.

Readers can delight in Gabe’s journey because it is one that we all at some point in our lives, for whatever varying reasons, have to take. Maybe Gabe isn’t the classic literary hero, he is a very flawed character in many respects, but no one is perfect, and anyone who reads this tale will relate to Gabe in a very personal manner. His love of Bette Midler, his reliance on the help of his mom’s wife, a priest who loves country music, and his own remembrances of what he sees as a life half lived will open the door to the reality of what he actually is, was, and will become.

Kergan Edwards-Stout has written a masterpiece. A bravura debut novel, its heartfelt message is ultimately timeless.

Mr. Edwards-Stout, well done, sir.

For more about Carey Parrish, author of Marengo and Big Business, please check out his website.

LGBT Book Review Blog: “Songs for the New Depression”

Very appreciative of the great review for Songs for the New Depression!

Shelly’s LGBT Book Review Blog

Today’s fiction review is about a novel, yes, but it’s also about the soundtrack of a life. Songs for the New Depression, the first novel for author Kergan Edwards-Stout, is set to the soundtrack of the Bette Midler album it takes its name from. The book is loosely based on the life story of his now deceased former life partner Shane Michael Sawick and an obvious passion for the music that moved a generation of gay men.

The book has garnered some rave reviews from both gay and straight outlets due to its honest and open portrayal of a death too soon from AIDS and also, no doubt, due to the fact that Mr. Edwards-Stout has been quietly making a name for himself by having works of both fiction and fact published in the magazine press and for being named by the Human Rights Campaign as one of their 2011 Father of the Year honorees. When I was contacted by his publisher about reading and reviewing this book, and when I saw those reviews, I responded to the inquiry with excitement. I wasn’t disappointed.

The lead character in this tale is Gabriel – often known as Gabe and, to his mother and an old friend or two, Gabey. Kergan wrote the book in a backwards chronological format. It opens with a prologue after Gabe has died from the scourge of AIDS. It proceeds in three parts – late life leading up to his death, the middle period where he contracted the disease, and his closeted high school years where he was trying to discover where he fit in the world, and then it ends with a short epilogue that brings the story forward in time again. It’s unusual to begin a book at the end but for Gabe’s story it works well.

At the beginning of the book, which again, portrays the end of Gabe’s life, he has some redeeming qualities. He’s found the good in life and in himself and he is prepared for death. As you as a reader go backward in time with him, you’ll almost feel yourself hating who and what he was. In the middle part of his short life he was a stereotypical sarcastic, bitchy queen with a sex fixation. As a woman, a lesbian woman, had this book been written in forward chronological order it’s very likely I would have given up on Gabe somewhere about the middle of his mid-life. While my heart broke for the young Gabe of the 3rd part, the 2nd/middle part made me want to grab 20 something Gabe and slap him silly for being such a total ass to everyone he came into contact with and, quite frankly to slap a chastity belt on him and throw away the key. I’m not a violent person but, wow, part II Gabe was a real piece of work!

Mid-life Gabe doesn’t love himself and he sets about his life to make himself unlovable by others. He always seeks “love” but he never finds it because, after the trauma of his teen years, he has blocked out any form of love but sex. When he seeks sex, he’s actual seeking real human contact, love and acceptance.

There is A LOT of gay sex in this book. Again, as a lesbian, it did absolutely nothing for me and had the book not started where it did, about the 5th time he was “intimate” (for lack of a better word) with someone in any way I would have closed the book for good. I didn’t do that because of the way the author so skillfully set the scene and built Gabe’s character. The sex is integral to the story. It is why Gabe is who and what he is.

Another thing that’s integral to the story is the soundtrack. No, there is no CD with the book. Gabe, during his life, became a fan of the Bette Midler, The Divine Ms. “M” a gay icon in the period the early and mid stories are set. Each of the three parts has a song that it flows with. Trust that you don’t have to own the album to feel the music. The references are throughout the text.

Many tout this book as an important piece of fiction that should be read by all because of it’s portrayal of AIDS. I’ll give them that. I would add that it’s not only an important piece of fiction because of the message, but it’s a great piece of fiction writing regardless of the message.

Book Talk With Charla – Review: “Songs for the New Depression”

I’m extremely grateful for the terrific review given to Songs for the New Depression by Book Talk With Charla.  Doesn’t get better than 5 out of 5 Stars!