By Kergan Edwards-Stout
Editions: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Published October 25th 2011 by Circumspect Press
Genre: Literary / MxM Romance / Drama
Source: review copy
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.
~ Goodreads Blurb
Yes, that’s right! One of those rare Bomy Award of Excellence read, standing tall and proud, but most of all, ridiculously good, and waving its freaking fabulous flag in all its glory. I think you can tell I’m running on high levels of excitement and general fangirlism, this novel was that good.
Now, while reading it, I felt that it would rank in my top 10 best reads of the year. After finishing it, I’m more inclined to say top 5. If we’re talking area of subject and impact it had on me, the really relevant reference I can give you was one of my top 10 reads of 2011, Caregiver by Rick R. Reed. Since back then in 2011 I didn’t have the Excellence mention worked out, Caregiver doesn’t show up under it, but for me it’s definitely a work of excellence. And this baby right here is right up there with it, I won’t compare them but if you read one and like it, I think you should also give the other a try. But you really should read them both, asap if you haven’t already. Just saying.
The first striking thing about Songs for the New Depression was the writing; upfront and poignant, it just hit me from the first few words. I was like, “mayday, mayday, bring a mountain of tissues, I foresee hysterical crying somewhere down this line”. The main character, Gabriel Travers, has one of the most colorful, personal and ridiculously charming voices I can think of right now, though Jon was very strong as well and I enjoyed the voices of other characters in the novel, I won’t lie, Gabe was by far my most loved.
All scenes were very vibrant and they had this way of wrapping themselves around me as I read, instant teleportation into the story, I felt with Gabe, loved with him, hurt with him, got my heart severely broken with him…and one other thing, that I won’t tell you for fear of ruining your read. Sufficient to say it involved a lot sniffling, many, many tear-soaked tissues and a headache.
This is one of the very few books I’ve read where the backwards through time direction not only worked for me, but felt brilliant. The natural sense of time, the chronological order of events not flowing in the natural direction of past, present, future is one of my pet peeves and I often complain about it whenever we meet. But this time, it was just natural somehow, like I was remembering Gabe’s life and living those memories, those moments with him.
One of my guiltiest literary pleasures is character focus, and in this novel I was delighted. First off, Gabe must be the funniest and most wickedly charming character I can think of right off the top of my head. I can never resist funny characters, and he had a sense of humor that just won me over like five seconds into the book. He was bold, smart, incredibly charismatic and despite his doubts on the matter, incredibly easy to love. Not the good guy, not the bad guy, a real person with deep and unadulterated feelings raging all over the spectrum from pure and beautiful love to carelessness and courage bordering on insanity. It’s really hard for me to keep from spoiling the whole thing, but I’ll just say this: I cried like a maniac when we left the Eiffel tower, I cried and couldn’t quite reconcile the beauty of the moment and feeling in the Sacre Coeur moment with what it led to in retrospect – I just started crying again now writing this just remembering that. I’m not spoiling your read, but the Sacre Coeur moment and the leaving of the Eiffel tower were just… impossibly intense moments. Heartbreaking, beautiful yet devastating, I just can’t truly put it into words, it was that exquisite and yet terrifying.
Jon was really lovely, I won’t say he wasn’t, and he had his moments when I just thought, ok, if these guys are for sale anywhere in the world, I want one, he just had that kind of selfless capacity to truly, deeply love someone, particularly my favorite character Gabe, it just floored me. It floored me to contemplate the devastation going rampant in the story, Jon’s, Gabe’s, and who knows how many other people’s who went through something similar.
The story was very intriguing, especially since there were these events that you just felt it in your bones were incredibly relevant that you only got a clear picture on when reaching the end. It had the perfect pace of events for me, though in this case I’d rather talk about the pace of feelings. This is a literary work, so we’re focusing on character, not agitated action (thank God!), and for me it was simply the perfect recipe to tell a story. I am going to be clear on this, this is not a happily ever after story. You might have noticed the ones I really, really love tend to have something of an unhappy if not devastating ending, right? This is not a happy ending book, it’s not a doll-ified version of a love story. This, my friends, is a brutally clear and honest glimpse into a real life, with its moments of pure grace, with its devastation, with its unfair and frustrating ending – because I was boiling up inside, wanting to just scream “This is not fair!”. Since that’s my general reaction to life by large, I’ll tell you that this story is one of those impossibly real, brutally real ones that will haunt you a long time after you’ve read them. And it should have the impact it will surely have on you, you shouldn’t try to evade but embrace it. Because that’s what we have to do with life, too, don’t we? Despite its moments of complete horror and pain, despite its flagrant and blatant unfairness in places, regardless of those moments of pure unadulterated happiness and grace, for it all, we should open ourselves up and just accept and embrace it.
So, all in all, this book is a work of art. It won’t be a hit and run, it won’t fleet away after you’ve galloped through it, it won’t leave you the way you were when you started the read. I was touched, moved, impressed and sort of shaken after reading this, and I’m still recovering now, 24 hours later, and you know what? That’s what a book should be able to do for you. That’s what art should be able to do for you, alter your soul once you’ve been touched by its magnificence.