In Middle Men, Stegner Fellow and New Yorker contributor Jim Gavin delivers a hilarious and panoramic vision of California, portraying a group of men, from young dreamers to old vets, as they make valiant forays into middle-class respectability. In “Play the Man” a high-school basketball player aspires to a college scholarship, in “Elephant Doors”, a production assistant on a game show moonlights as a stand-up comedian, and in the collection’s last story, the immensely moving “Costello”, a middle-aged plumbing supplies salesman comes to terms with the death of his wife. The men in Gavin’s stories all find themselves stuck somewhere in the middle, caught half way between their dreams and the often crushing reality of their lives. A work of profound humanity that pairs moments of high comedy with searing truths about life’s missed opportunities, Middle Men brings to life a series of unforgettable characters learning what it means to love and work and be in the world as a man, and it offers our first look at a gifted writer who has just begun teaching us the tools of his trade.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2013: What a stunning debut collection-- funny, sad, heartfelt, and wise. Jim Gavin, a writer for the New Yorker, has trained his keen eye on the awkward and sobering stages of manhood: the yearning in-between stages; the striving but not-quite-there stages; those aching periods of want. Yet there’s a touching lack of the pathetic in the aspirations of these characters: the self-denying basketball player, the unemployed screenwriter, the widowed plumber. In fact, I found it fascinating to recognize my sons, my father, and my brother in these pages (and, yes, myself). Gavin’s men in the middle may be lazy or naïve, they may be underemployed or a bit lost, but they’re also hopers and dreamers, seeking better, brighter days amid the hazy Southern California warmth. --Neal Thompson