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Review: Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout

April 30, 2012

Songs for the New Depression coverTitle: Songs for the New Depression
Author: Edwards-Stout, Kergan
Length: 270 pages
Genre: Fiction, GLBTQ
Publisher / Year: Circumspect Press / 2011
Source: From the publisher for review.
Rating: -indie lit shortlist book-
Why I Read It: Indie lit shortlist book.
Date Read: 28/02/12

In this book we are introduced to Gabriel, a middle-aged man who knows he will shortly be facing death. Although new drugs are finally coming available, it seems it will be too late and Gabriel will succumb to AIDS. He is examining his life, sharing with us his past and why exactly he finds it lacking. From the first we can see he is a tad self-obsessed and worried about being perfect. He is concerned, throughout the novel, with having us see him how he wants us to, with having us think well of him, and with hopes that we will absolve him of responsibility for any past failings.

The book jumps from the prologue to a few months prior, telling the story of his meeting with his current partner. From there part two and part three both go back farther in time to explain more of what we’ve been given glimpses of. I didn’t think this was a great method to tell the story, I think I would have been more interested in the story if it had been a straight-linear narrative, though I understand why Edwards-Stout did it the way he did – he was able to include a major revelation at the end of each section which I suppose would draw people into the story and keep them reading.

Throughout the book, I was frustrated by Gabriel’s constant soul-searching and attempts to justify his behavior. The description seems to imply that he is trying to become a better person and that a few certain people help him in this, though he seems to always be failing. The book certainly shows this clearly. I felt that Gabriel at the beginning was the exact same Gabriel at the end, whether you are looking at his life or at the way the book was structured. At each point he has the same thoughts and discussions and is just as self-centered. I kept waiting for him to grow, but that moment never came. There was no character growth or development experienced, no matter how much he talked about wanting it.

My largest issue with book was that I found it dripping with misogyny was full of great quips and comments about how women are useless, if women are ugly they really have no purpose in life, and other gems like that. In addition, the author inserted jokes such as… “cuntree music”. I didn’t find that funny, I found it… odd and juvenile. A transgender preacher is mentioned… named “Dick Novagina”. This time not so much odd and juvenile but offensive. There were too many moments like this that distracted my reading and left me completely annoyed and disappointed. I can’t figure out if they were put in because the author found it funny, or if it was a way to try to get a reaction from readers. If the latter, it worked, but not in a good way.

If you have a thick skin to put up with the misogyny, which does show the characters state of mind and thoughts clearly and thus works toward showing his complete self-interest and lack of empathy for others, you may have a better time with this book than I did. If you like stories about characters examining their lives, about dealing with illness and disease, or with life in general, this may be a book for you. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2012 10:59 am

    This is a good and fair review, Amy. Your thoughts have actually put me off. Initially I was interested when reading from the beginning, thinking I would want to read it to see how Gabriel is able to accept his conditions and manage it (AIDS plots always have me hooked; I lost two cousins to the disease). But I have to agree with you that such offensive jokes and cheap play on womanhood are quite below the belt. Thanks for sharing.

    • May 1, 2012 11:26 am

      Yes, they really are difficult to read readinpleasure. I mean, it shows a lot about the character but doesn’t mean it’s fun to read :P

  2. April 30, 2012 12:50 pm

    I love the title — that grabbed me — but the misogyny would not — so thank you for mentioning that in your review. :/

  3. April 30, 2012 3:27 pm

    I found the main character completely deplorable and ditched the book without finishing. I’m glad I did. I kept hoping for growth, but it looks like it didn’t happen.

    • May 1, 2012 11:27 am

      I’m so glad to hear that you had issues as well, Andi. Sometimes it’s hard not to think you are overreacting when it gets so bad, but yeah.

  4. April 30, 2012 5:23 pm

    Ok, just to put it bluntly, this book would have pissed me off. The author seems to find himself very hilarious, but I gaurantee that a lot of others wouldn’t. Why the ugly misogyny? The fellow who wrote this book sounds like a very angry dude, and with all the ugliness it totally alienates a great segment of the reading community. But what do I know, I’m just a woman. ;)

    • May 1, 2012 11:28 am

      Yes zibilee, I mean, some of it fits in to the characters general attitude, but some of it… not so much. Some of it just seemed spiteful.

  5. May 1, 2012 7:07 am

    Eep. Doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy much either :S

    • May 1, 2012 11:28 am

      I’m still upset I even had to read the whole thing Ana :P hah

  6. May 1, 2012 11:14 am

    This is the second review from you that I’ve read with regards to a gay male author. You disliked both of their books (the other was Gregory G. Allen’s “Well with My Soul”). I get that these authors created these “less than desirable” characters, however that would not have stopped me from reading these books. I want to read stories about all kinds of people because that mirrors the real world. The real world is peopled with all kinds of human beings: flawed and (almost) perfect. I like reading about people who are constantly trying to better themselves, or correct their flaws. Some people are in constant states of self-introspection and live a whole lifetime without ever reaching their own personal “nirvanas”. Does this negate their journey, simply because they never reach their destination?

    I am one of the “biggest” feminists I know. Women’s rights (as well as human rights) are causes I champion at every turn. However, I know I live in a world where misogynists still occupy space. Reading fiction that mirrors this doesn’t offend me, at all. What offends me are people who feel they must point these types of things out in fiction as if it’s the author who is a misogynist and not “simply” their character. The same would go for a character created by a gay male author who hates himself so much that he would try to “pray the gay away”. I am able to separate the author from his characters, because in most cases the author is simply creating a “what if” scenario and doesn’t necessarily believe in what his main character believes in.

    Perhaps if authors used a similar disclaimer used by television channels: “The views of the protagonist are not those of the author” that might help. I don’t know.

    What I do know is that critics (book, film, theatre, etc.) should be careful when critiquing. They should leave room for their readers/followers to make up their own minds whether or not they would read a book or see a movie and use critics’ words with a “grain of salt” as they are simply opinions and not “bible truth”.

    Perhaps you should stick to stories where the protagonists are always positive and always arc and always work out their problems by the end of the book tied with a pretty bow.

    • May 1, 2012 11:41 am

      Thanks for your comment adauphin04. I would point out first that I’ve read a number of books by gay male authors through the years and have really enjoyed many of them. However, if a book – by any author – contains offensive and upsetting language, I think that it always deserves to be mentioned. I think that readers need to know going in what to expect.

      I point out, you will note, that the misogyny does fit in and show Gabriel’s general mindset and attitudes, but that a reader should be prepared to deal with the language. I also point out that it didn’t work for me, but others might enjoy it. If a book contains transphobic or homophobic or racist statements, I will include that too. I don’t care who the author is, if something is potentially triggering or upsetting to someone, I want to point that out. That doesn’t mean don’t read it, it means be aware and only read this if you are OK with dealing with some of what comes up.

      As to this book specifically… yes, how a character acts or what a character says isn’t a reflection on an author. That being said, the author is still choosing what to write. If it gets extreme, it’s hard not to see the author behind the scenes choosing to write it and choosing to go that extra mile to ensure offence. And some characters don’t grow you are right – but there is a difference between showing lack of growth and simply repeating the same things over and over. If a book is poorly written, it’s poorly written. If it’s poorly written and offensive, then it’s hard to get much worse.

      • May 1, 2012 12:45 pm

        “If it gets extreme, it’s hard not to see the author behind the scenes choosing to write it and choosing to go that extra mile to ensure offence.” If you can’t separate the author from his/her characters, then (in my humble opinion) you have no business reviewing fiction.

        So, by your logic…
        JK Rowling is a racist (witches vs. muggles (humans))
        Stephen King is a pschopath or a “ghoul” of some kind
        Anne Rice is a female misogynist AND satanist
        Ian Fleming is a male whore/misogynist

        “If a book is poorly written, it’s poorly written. If it’s poorly written and offensive, then it’s hard to get much worse.”
        Again, simply your opinion and not fact. Right?

      • May 1, 2012 12:58 pm

        OK, let’s examine your first example. JK Rowling indeed has witches vs muggles – but there are humans who are portrayed as full and complex human beings, and witches who are portrayed as full and complex human beings. While reading, although you can see that a group of people hold these opinions (that humans are worthless), you also see that others don’t hold the opinions, that they are simply examples of the bigoted people we deal with in human life. There are characters who are against the opinions, there is the interplay of good vs evil, and more. And this all in children’s literature that has it’s own flaws. There is a big difference between just putting out stereotypes and in actually taking the time to write complex characters. Again, it comes back to poor writing and choosing the easy option.

        But yes, it is my opinion, and this site is a place for me to share my opinions. All reviews and criticism stems from people’s opinions while reading books – whether those opinions be that the book is offensive, poorly written, or anything else. You, of course, are more than welcome to start your own site on which to share your own opinions and reviews of works of literature.

        But just the same as you are saying I can’t separate the author from the book, you seem to have the same issues separating a critique from the author, so I guess we have the same issue don’t we?

        • May 1, 2012 1:27 pm

          As you are a book critic, critiquing (or, giving YOUR opinion about) fiction then yes you’re absolutely right I cannot (and won’t) separate you from your critiques/opinion (which ARE NOT fiction). So, “NO” we don’t have the same issue.

          Thank you for giving me permission to start my on site. It is appreciated however as a indie screenwriter and filmmaker, I don’t have the time at present as I am busy marketing my own works.

          My main concern is that you are a judge/panelist for GLBTQ Indie Lit awards and it doesn’t seem that you are objective enough to open-mindedly review fiction, let alone judge it. Three out of the five that were short-listed for that competition are reviewed here on your site and you seem to have had issue with all three authors’ writing about women; who happen to be gay and male.
          Gay male minds don’t “work” the same way heterosexual male minds do, so to “accuse” or infer that they’re misogynists because you can’t separate authors from their fiction seems a bit un-fair for a “fair review”.

          I do apologize for “hijacking” your site with my opinions, but you seem to encourage discussion; or, perhaps I misunderstood the intent of this site, as it includes a COMMENTS section.

        • May 20, 2012 8:27 pm

          Comments and discussion are always appreciated, yes. I will say that there is always a difference between reviewing and judging for any award, and also that there was a full judging panel. The fact that the book didn’t win was not because I didn’t think highly of it – nor was it because of the critiques I point out here.

          I would also say though, that I’ve never before heard anyone say that gay minds “work” differently… but it still doesn’t excuse misogyny. One of my favourite bloggers who always makes me think recently made this comment in a post: “When fiction is applied so carelessly that it is employed in reinforcing prevailing stereotypes and attitudes, it becomes lethal to people’s mindsets.” That I think sums up my attitude to this book well.

  7. May 1, 2012 1:42 pm

    Hi there,
    Thank you for taking the time to review my novel, SONGS FOR THE NEW DEPRESSION. I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but do appreciate your feedback.

    You’re right in that the character of Gabriel is misogynistic, but you’ve missed the bigger point, in that he hates everyone–especially himself. He lashes out at others, to prevent them from getting too close, but then wonders why folks hold themselves at arm’s length. His issues arise from not tackling his failings, and like many, he wants to better himself, but hasn’t a clue as to how to do it. He inches forward, then back, then forward again. While it would be great if everyone had grand transformational moments where all was neatly resolved, that doesn’t happen in real life, and that doesn’t happen here, either. His changes are much more subtle, but he does make progress, as other reviewers have noted.

    Perhaps your anger at the character prevented you from noticing that the women in the book–ALL OF THE WOMEN–are bettering their lives and moving on. To me, they are the true heros/heroines–which is also part of why he is so angry with them. They are doing what he hasn’t been able. His mother has made great strides in improving her life, his best friend finally hits her breaking point with his poor attitude and chooses to walk away from him, and another woman offers him redemption at the point he needs it most.

    As far as the chronological structure, if the story had been told in a straightforward manner, it would have come across as a TV movie of the week. It’s no secret the character dies, and getting rid of that upfront helps prevent the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” moment. Instead, it was told in this manner to, little by little, reveal what is at his core, like peeling an onion, and it is only in the final scenes that we learn where such feelings come from (including his anger towards his mother.)

    Happily, the reviews by Kirkus Reviews, The Advocate, HIV Plus, Amos Lassen, Liberty Press, Book Talk with Charla, Frontiers Magazine, the Book Worm Sez, Echo Magazine, and others have been much more favorable, and I’m pleased that the book has resonated with so many. Noted reviewer Richard Labonte mentioned it in his top fiction picks for the year, and another author noted it among his top ten reads this decade.

    For an interesting and positive review by a lesbian on an LGBT blog site, check out:
    http://shellysbookstore.com/2012/01/23/fiction-monday-songs-for-the-new-depression-by-kergan-edwards-stout/

    People like or dislike books for a variety of reasons, and even though you didn’t, I am grateful for your feedback, as it is always interesting to see how readers respond to your work. My bigger concern is that, as a judge in a contest, do you have the objectivity to really evaluate work on its merit–without influence of your own issues? You seem to fault my book for what you perceive to be an angry, misogynistic, character, with not enough change for your taste–but must all books be the same, tied up with happy endings?

    My hope is that others who read your review will recognize that not everything need be politically correct to be “good”, as evidenced by both the reviews and notes/emails from readers on my website and facebook page, and that they’ll read and discover SONGS FOR THE NEW DEPRESSION, and make up their own minds.

    Best wishes,
    Kergan Edwards-Stout

    • May 20, 2012 8:33 pm

      Thanks for your comment Kergan. I would point out, to start, that reviewing a book online and judging for an award are two very different things. Different criteria and points are used for both. For the judging all panelists took many things into account including writing style and etc.

      My issue isn’t with a misogynistic character, but rather that we are only given this one view. I could see how it all fit with his character, but there was nothing outside of that. Yes, women show growth in the book, but they are constantly ridiculed and put down. And it seemed the trans preacher was named ‘Dick Novagina’, which is… well, upsetting to me. It was this point, where a character was named so insensitively, that made me question the rest of it more carefully, unfortunately.

      I am glad to hear though that others are enjoying the book – every book will always have it’s audience. There were good things in the book, and it deals with some interesting topics. I just unfortunately had some issues.

  8. May 4, 2012 11:07 am

    You have the right to your opinion, Amy. You were fair and expressive. Stay strong!

  9. Lisa permalink
    June 27, 2012 2:00 am

    Hey–stumbled on your review after seeing this book won the Next Generation Indie Book award for LGBT and was shortlisted for the same in the Independent Literary Awards. From your post, it seems like your main issue was that you didn’t like the main character and what you viewed as his misogyny–is that right? Given all of the awards and accolades the book has received, I’m just trying to figure out, is this a matter of the book not being in sync with your own political views, or is there something else about it that bothered you?

    • June 28, 2012 1:00 pm

      I’m really surprised by all the awards Lisa, but it just proves that no book can work for everyone, and everyone has their own tastes and things they enjoy. To me, it was more the attitude of it all yes – i.e. the author named a trans character “Dick Novagina” which is… well, it didn’t make me happy. Not that it isn’t in sync with my political views, per se, but that I felt it denied humanity. To copy more of what I said above:

      One of my favourite bloggers who always makes me think critically recently made this comment in a post: “When fiction is applied so carelessly that it is employed in reinforcing prevailing stereotypes and attitudes, it becomes lethal to people’s mindsets.” That I think sums up my attitude to this book well.

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