Synopses & Reviews
In Stegner Fellow and New Yorker contributor Jim Gavin’s stunning debut story collection, a group of men makes doomed forays into middle class respectability—a humorous and panoramic view of Southern California that is as witty as it is insightful.
Following the trajectory of an old trade guild, Middle Men moves from tales of “apprentices” and slightly more mature “journeymen” to the story of accomplished “master” Costello, a recently retired plumbing salesman grappling with the death of his wife. These men may all be in different stages of life, but they have one thing in common: the feeling of being in between. A work of profound humanity that pairs moments of comedic levity with searing truths about life’s missed opportunities, Middle Men offers a keyhole view into the lives of men grasping at dreams and our first look at a gifted writer who has just begun teaching us the tools of his trade.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In Middle Men, Stegner Fellow and New Yorker contributor Jim Gavin delivers a
About the Author
Jim Gavin worked as a sportswriter, plumbing salesman, and a Jeopardy! production assistant. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, he received his MFA from Boston University and his fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, ZYZZYVA, and Slice magazine. He lives in Southern California.