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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

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