Middle Men: Stories

Middle Men: Stories

5.0 7
by Jim Gavin

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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.

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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.”

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Editorial Reviews

“Distinctive and powerful….Gavin plumbs the hearts and minds of his men with laserlike accuracy, but he also brings surprising humor to the stories, especially in the relief that his characters often feel when they realize that they won’t be able to live up to their own expectations.”
“Who is Jim Gavin? The second coming of Denis Johnson if his debut collection is any indication. These sad, funny stories about nowhere men—some young, some bent-backed, all pained and searching for something they’ll never find—knocked me out….These short stories will transport you, will educate you, will entertain you, will fill you with fear and laughter and sadness.”
'Faces to Watch' The Los Angeles Times
“Middle Men” aspires to do what ambitious fiction has always done: show the world (especially the world we think we know) in a way that's recognizable and revealing, while telling us something fundamental about where and how we live.”
'What to Read in 2013' Chicago Tribune
“New Yorker contributor Jim Gavin's debut story collection, praised as "exceptional" in a starred Kirkus review, portrays a group of men whose dreams are at odds with the reality of their lives.”
Atlantic Wire
“A book of hilarious and moving short stories from New Yorker contributor Gavin, who portrays a group of men of various ages in California as they try to find that space somewhere between their dreams and their actual lives.”
author of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland - Patton Oswalt
"Jim Gavin's Middle Men is perfectly titled — these are characters gloriously unaware of how adrift they are. Gnostic high school basketballers, romantic pursuers, open mic comedians — I've rarely seen such a keen depiction of souls so out of focus. These stories — especially "Elephant Doors" — brought back some hilarious, uncomfortable memories for me. Immerse yourself! Immerse!"
author of Union Atlantic - Adam Haslett
"The best debut collection of short stories I've read in a very long time."
author of The Ask - Sam Lipsyte
“Jim Gavin’s stories are wise and funny and not at all afraid of the dark, or the light. Middle Men is a very powerful debut.”
author of Drift and This Vacant Paradise - Victoria Patterson
“With its sharply drawn characters, its humor and affection and melancholy, its deep wisdom of the ways we live and cope and endure, and its panoramic and precise vision of California, Middle Men is a phenomenal story collection, and Jim Gavin an extravagantly talented writer. I could not put this book down. Gavin brings the California and SoCal I know and love to the page with searing intelligence, beauty, and an emotive force, making Middle Men one of the finest and most unusual fictions I’ve read in years.”
author of The Eden Hunter and The Southern Cross - Skip Horack
“Like the heroes of this stunning collection, Jim Gavin’s stories negotiate and illuminate the gray, authentic middle, bridging the divide that exists between California’s—and indeed, America’s—golden mythology and her starker realities. There is deep truth, beauty, and humor to be found in this territory, and in Gavin we have found the ultimate emissary. This book is an absolute triumph of sympathy and revelation.”
author of You Think That's Bad and Liked You'd Understand, Anyway - Jim Shepard
“I love the wit and intelligence and rigor with which Jim Gavin renders characters who find themselves spiraling down the water column. Middle Men is peerless in its portraits of American males dimly coming to appreciate the disastrous convergence of their own fecklessness and feelings of entitlement with the increasingly unforgiving hard times bearing down on them, and on most of the rest of us as well.”
Los Angeles Review of Books
Middle Men deserves its hype and demonstrates a top-shelf talent….A brilliant sense of humor that animates each story and creates a state of near-continuous reading pleasure….A superlative debut.”
Boston Globe
“Excellent….extremely entertaining….Gavin’s writing delivers jab after jab, the hilarious and the poignant mingling in compelling ways….He has a way of quickly and vividly drawing the minor characters who drift in and out of his stories….Overall, Gavin’s writing is eminently readable and reminiscent of some of Tom Perrotta’s best work.”
Time Out Chicago
“With impressive precision, [Gavin] describes everything from being creatively unfulfilled to dodging landlords looking for back rent…. his writing achieves new insight, power and grace.”
AM New York (interview)
“A hilarious and moving debut of stories.”
The Millions
“[A] superb debut collection….laugh-out-loud funny…. all of Gavin’s stories are gems….Middle Men [is], as all good collections should be, greater in total than merely a succession of well-crafted stories.”
Brooklyn Rail
Middle Men is a fantastic book…The stories here that stick the hardest…are symphonic triumphs, gut-wrenchers of male life.”
“Sad and funny…Middle Men captures its mishap-prone and chronically underemployed characters on the cusp of moving beyond their muddled dreams of grandeur.”
“Jim Gavin is the real deal….[he] confronts [Southern California] with the power and weary enthusiasm of a D.J. Waldie, Joan Didion or Raymond Chandler….Perfect.”
Omaha World Herald
“Gavin's characters are funny and sad….These lovable souls have held onto their dignity but not a whole lot more….This is a writer who understands both the painful and the beautiful moments that make up a human life, and spending time with his characters is a great gift. This collection is a triumph of storytelling and Gavin's loose, relaxed prose is nearly perfect.”
Publishers Weekly
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. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Gavin's debut collection chronicles the dudes of Los Angeles, moving from a high school basketball player to a widowed toilet salesman, a sad but soulful collection of losers, underachievers, slackers, and misfits linked mainly by a fondness for Del Taco. In the particularly memorable "Elephant Doors," a morose aspiring comedian's day job as a production assistant on a Jeopardy-like game show is threatened when he gets dragged into the pedantic host's sordid personal life. Only one, "Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror," features a female protagonist, a high-achieving Type-A striver, quite unlike the male characters, who nonetheless flames out in spectacular fashion in the end. Though these are largely tales of men failing in their endeavors and scraping by from disappointment to disappointment, lowering their expectations as they lose jobs, girlfriends, and homes, they are uniformly laugh-out-loud funny. VERDICT As the lizard at the bottom of the pool in the title story could tell you, there are no happily ever-afters in this stellar collection marked by an irreverent, deadpan humor and postmodern sensibility. [See Prepub Alert, 8/27/12.]—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Gavin's exceptional debut collection, set mainly in southern California, harkens to an earlier literary Los Angeles, that of Nathanael West, who, in The Day of the Locust, called Hollywood a "dream dump...the Sargasso of the imagination." Gavin's bleakly funny, inventive stories feature hapless men caught between dire, pitiless reality--busted loves, dead parents, stillborn careers--and a golden (or at least spray-paint–gilded) mythology of manhood and of success that they can neither believe in nor bring themselves (quite) to throw out. Several stories feature young men making disastrous decisions and then following them to their conclusions in a way that would seem bathetic except that these young men, not having the consolation of delusion, steam toward misery with eyes open and mordant wit intact. There's the impoverished 20-something in "Bermuda" who gets himself fired from his job as a Meals on Wheels deliveryman so as to chase his reluctant beloved to her new job teaching music in paradise. He does this not to win her back--that's not in the cards, and he knows it--but because he sees that the only way out of the narrative he's foolishly invested so much in is to keep spiraling down to its humiliating end. In "Elephant Doors," an assistant to a mercurial, Belgium-obsessed quiz-show host is made to wriggle through a doggy door in the house of his ex-wife on a commando mission that cannot end but badly. The protagonist of "Illuminati" is a battered screenwriter still trying, long after the glory has faded, to nourish both himself and the "exalted visions I had of my future" off the proceeds from his one payday--for a "multi-ethnic buddy cop adventure comedy" called Hyde & Sikh. The poignant finale is a diptych about father-and-son toilet salesmen, the old man a veteran who feels most at home traversing the freeways, the son a fish hopelessly out of water, both bereft after the slow death by cancer of the woman--mother and wife--they loved. The best kind of satire: barbed and hilarious, but suffused with compassion.

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Product Details

Simon & Schuster
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Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Jim Gavin’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Esquire, Slice, The Mississippi Review, and ZYZZYVA. He lives in Los Angeles.

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