A powerful, funny, and wise debut from a writer Esquire praises as “the second coming of Denis Johnson.”
In this widely acclaimed story collection, Jim Gavin delivers a hilarious and panoramic vision of California, in which a number of down-on-their-luck men, from young dreamers to old vets, make valiant forays into middle-class respectability. Each of the men in Gavin’s stories is stuck somewhere in the middle, caught halfway between his dreams and the often crushing reality of his life. A work of profound humanity that pairs moments of high comedy with searing truths about life’s missed opportunities, Middle Men brings to life unforgettable characters as they learn what it means to love and work and exist in the world as a man.
Hailed as a “modern-day Dubliners” (Time Out ) and “reminiscent of Tom Perotta’s best work” (The Boston Globe), this stellar debut has the Los Angeles Review of Books raving, “Middle Men deserves its hype and demonstrates a top-shelf talent. . . . A brilliant sense of humor animates each story and creates a state of near-continuous reading pleasure.”
When it comes to truth-in-advertising, it doesn't get much droller than the title of Stegner fellow Gavin's debut story collection, which does indeed compile a menagerie of unprepossessing California menfolk. Slackers, dropouts, the semiemployed, and the simply maladroit, Gavin's young protagonists may not exactly be a credit to their generation, but they make for the kind of fiction that catches you off guard and brutalizes you with humor. Thus "Bermuda" concerns an Echo Park miscreant's courtly pursuit of an ex-groupie (in between Nintendo binges); a game show production assistant staggers adrift in a world of trivia in "Elephant Doors"; and "Play the Man" gives us a singularly unmotivated varsity basketball player's coming-of-age. These are paeans to extended adolescence and mediocrity, but the collection's best stories are much more than opportunities for pity and Gen-X pathos: "Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror," for example, coaxes profundity and hope out of the parallel struggles of a would-be boy inventor (he's working on something called "The Man Handler") and his solvent-but-damaged cousin, Nora. Finally, the book's two-part title story is the definitive father-and-son plumbing equipment salesmen picaresque. In tracing the careers of the basically unemployable, Gavin speaks with authority, and his colloquial, detail-driven dialogue oscillates nicely between Flaubert and The Simpsons. Sad and overtly hysterical, the stories dodge self-pity and indie quirk for pensive American tales of turn-of-the-20th century manchildren gesturing vaguely toward a future of eroded opportunity.