The Still Sad Music

Fiction - Literary
198 Pages
Reviewed on 12/07/2017
Buy on Amazon

Author Biography

I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature (with a Professional Writing Option) from Georgia Southwestern State University in December of 2003 before moving on the Valdosta State University where I received my Master’s Degree in the same subject in December of 2009. I am now in the English Literature Ph.D. program at Georgia State University, and will graduate at the end of Spring 2019.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Still Sad Music by Shawn Merritt is a sometimes melancholic, but always interesting journey through the coming of age of a troubled young man. Jeffrey is an awkward adolescent, just coming to terms with his feelings and emotions, when both his parents are killed in a car crash. With only his big brother left to guide him in the ways of the world and his best friend, Jimmy, Jeffrey embarks on a self-destructive journey of drugs, alcohol and sex as he tries to cope with life and with his place in this world. Along with his addictions, Jeffrey must face and deal with his own mental illness and understand what it is that makes him tick. Lurching from one crisis to another, he manages to stay a part of the world without actually being able to figure out his own place in it.

The Still Sad Music is a hauntingly poignant reminder that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Shawn Merritt drags the reader into Jeffrey’s twisted and misunderstood world, and asks some of the very big questions: Who am I? What am I doing here? and What’s the point of it all? Despite the subject matter, which is at times depressing and sad, Merritt manages to infuse the story with enough subtle humour and genuinely funny observations about people to stop the reader from clutching his/her head in their hands in despair. The story is tight, well-written and exceptionally moving at times. It is impossible to read this book and not feel a deep compassion and sorrow for the young character, whilst at the same time having this intense desire to kick his butt and tell him to pull himself together. All in all, an excellent read and a real credit to this author. This is a coming-of-age novel with none of the nasty bits shaved off or toned down.

Deborah Lloyd

Jeffrey Killingsworth is a fourteen-year-old adolescent boy, who is already experiencing deep depression and anxiety. He and his friends from the Sunnyside Baptist Church in Dahlonega, GA, attend a church camp in Tennessee. Jeffrey and Jimmy become lost in the snowy woods after smoking some pot, but eventually make their way back to the camp. Being lost is a metaphor for Jeffrey’s adolescence in The Still Sad Music, a novel written by Shawn Merritt. He is faced with a family tragedy, and the end of his long-time friendship with Natalie Spellman. The story then shifts to his sophomore year at Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, GA. He and Jimmy remain friends as they embark on a drug-filled lifestyle. Jeffrey continues to view the world through his depressed and anxiety-filled moods. Whether he is able to cope with the challenges of life without drugs is the central focus of this novel.

Author Shawn Merritt has written a compelling and thought-provoking novel in The Still Sad Music. An in-depth understanding and knowledge of mental illness and substance addiction is competently described. Beginning with a young adolescent boy growing into early adulthood, the story illustrates the years-long struggle that many people face. The writing is well-crafted, with a good balance of narrative dialogue between characters and Jeffrey’s inner dialogue. The author engages the reader from the first page to the last. The reader becomes involved with the characters and is hopeful that Jeffrey will find peace at last. This fictional work is powerful and unforgettable - an excellent read.

Marta Tandori

In The Still Sad Music by Shawn Merritt, Jeffrey Killingsworth is different from his friends. At fourteen, he’s physically immature, constantly daydreaming and tends to goof off – unlike his older and more responsible brother, William. A church outing to a campsite at Fall Creek is supposed to be fun, but after Jeffrey’s parents drop him off, the outing proves to be anything but. Brother Rodney, their youth minister, gives Jeffrey and his friends chores to do, but Natalie Spellman, his childhood friend and adolescent crush, is going steady with the hunky Johnny Greersby, and the two seem to have eyes only for each other. While the food is cooking, Jeffrey and his best friend, Jimmy, and another guy, Mark, take off into the woods to smoke a joint Mark found. After the weed’s buzz wears off, Mark goes back to camp while Jeffrey and Jimmy stay behind a little while longer. When they finally decide to head back, the weather has worsened and they get lost. They eventually make their way to a cabin owned by a hillbilly who drives them back to camp. While Jimmy is happy to be back and embraces being the center of attention after their harrowing adventure, Jeffrey feels out of sorts, struggling with his constant anxiety and inexplicable sorrow. These feelings threaten to overwhelm him on the trip back from the camp. It isn’t until their bus returns home and Jeffrey sees his brother somberly waiting for him that he realizes something has happened and that his life will never be the same again…

The Still Sad Music by Shawn Merritt is a work of literary fiction. The title of the book, The Still Sad Music, is haunting and evocative, much like Merritt’s main protagonist. The author has created a tragic figure in the form of Jeffrey Killingsworth. From a young age, Jeffrey has struggled with trying to express any form of happiness or joy and is unable to prevent himself from slipping into his constant state of melancholy and anxiety, precursors to the mental illness and drug addiction that eventually claim him. It’s not easy to maintain the necessary balance between narrative and dialogue while writing about things that torture the mind and soul, yet Merritt does so admirably. While there are the odd spelling mistakes here and there, these don’t take away from this excellent and moving story as a whole. A life that doesn’t live up to its full potential is a tragedy and The Still Sad Music is sure to leave a resounding echo in readers's minds long after the last page has been read.