counter Middle Men: Stories - Free Download Books
Hot Best Seller

Middle Men: Stories

Availability: Ready to download

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 o 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.


Compare

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 o 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.

30 review for Middle Men: Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Maciek

    Jim Gavin's debut collection of short fiction could as well be called "Down and out in greater Los Angeles". But even Down and Out in Paris and London had a George Orwell, who later went to write Animal Farm and 1984, immortalizing his name even for those who do no read. Gavin's stories don't have heroes that get written about or who write about themselves: they have the eponymous middle men, people who are not quite at the bottom but at the same time quite far away from the top. These stories do Jim Gavin's debut collection of short fiction could as well be called "Down and out in greater Los Angeles". But even Down and Out in Paris and London had a George Orwell, who later went to write Animal Farm and 1984, immortalizing his name even for those who do no read. Gavin's stories don't have heroes that get written about or who write about themselves: they have the eponymous middle men, people who are not quite at the bottom but at the same time quite far away from the top. These stories don't have much of a narrative arc, just like the lives of their protagonists don't have any particular direction. These men, young and old, live day by day in a curious state of permanent suspension: they're hanging in some sort of a limbo, between their hopes and dreams of achieving success and fear of messing up big time and losing everything. Gavin's characters travel along the endless freeways of hazy southern California, the hazy place where everything seems to be possible but at the same time remains in the distance, out of reach. They try their hands at becoming the local success stories in baseball or stand-up comedy, but mostly live their days from job to job, under constant sunshine. They are lost and without any real role models or people to admire - as displayed by the hopeless basketball coach in the first story, "Play The Man". How can the young protagonist ever achieve success at basketball if he has no one from whom he can take any real advice from? Gavin's men meet only phonies, frauds and kooks - as illustrated by the interaction between the protagonist and the famous talk-show host in "Elephant Doors" - or others who are just as lost as them. They become stuck in a depressing inertia, unable to find Reuther way to opportunity trough all the haze - settling down to take what they can, understanding that they will never play the first ball, amuse the audience on national television or perform for thousands on a great stage. They all seem to be waiting for someone or something to arrive to save them, and stop their lives from being an exercise in futility - but it never happens. And so they go on, baked by the golden state's endless sunshine, walking step by step on its cracked pavements, driving mile by mile on its endless and evermerging freeways. These stories scream autobiography from every page - Gavin is a native of Orange County, and was shaped by the same environment and communities that he describes - and together form a well-written debut collection. Still, the reader might wish for a bit more of a narrative cohesion and plot, which will hopefully arrive with the author's debut novel.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    No one aspires to be a “middle man” – a low-paid assistant, a traveling salesman, a boy who lingers on the cusp of basketball greatness. Jim Gavin’s eight stories all focus on a man who knows, deep down inside, that he will not exit the world in a blaze of glory but gamely takes what life has to offer. The term is defined in – predictably – one of the middle stories entitled Elephant doors. Jim Gavin writes, “He imagined the two versions of himself – the young fraud and the old pro—standing on ei No one aspires to be a “middle man” – a low-paid assistant, a traveling salesman, a boy who lingers on the cusp of basketball greatness. Jim Gavin’s eight stories all focus on a man who knows, deep down inside, that he will not exit the world in a blaze of glory but gamely takes what life has to offer. The term is defined in – predictably – one of the middle stories entitled Elephant doors. Jim Gavin writes, “He imagined the two versions of himself – the young fraud and the old pro—standing on either side of a dark chasm. If there was some blessed third version of himself, the middle man who could bridge the gap, Adam saw no trace of him in the darkness.” So the question becomes: how does one bridge the gap? Sometimes, the answer is just to get into the game. Sixteen-year-old Pat Linehan – whose family is desperate for him to win a college basketball scholarship – ends up playing for a ragtag second-string team in high school. When the school is predictably defeated, Pat “felt a miraculous sense of relief because I knew it was all over, my future.” Yet at the same time he “felt something rising in me, a sense of life, maybe.” In one of my favorites, Bermuda, a young penniless man named Brian chases a flawed older woman, Karen, to Bermuda to somehow get some closure or arrange some resolution. Despite the fact that Karen signals strongly to Brian that the romance is now over, he reflects, “I wanted her to disappear around a corner, so it would be too late. I’d have an excuse for not doing what I wanted.” And, in the aforementioned Elephant Doors, lowly assistant Adam panders to the studio mogul, Max, only to discover that the whole game is really meaningless and empty. By the end, “his plan was to sit there all night, drinking and cheering and listening to all the other souls who, like him, depended on the incorruptible spirit of El Goof.” In the excellent eponymously titled story, we meet Matt – who spends some years nursing his dying mother. Gavin writes, “After she died, Matt, for his pain and loss, felt entitled to many rewards. He secretly anticipated, in no particular order, a moment of spiritual transcendence, the touch of a beautiful and understanding woman, and some kind of financial windfall. Instead, at thirty, he was broke and living at home.” These are men who are frozen in their inertia, yearning for something in life but resistant to actually taking hold of it. They are unwilling to bow down to the future of their fathers, yet they are way too tentative to map out an alternative future of their own. In ways, they are stuck, but curiously, not unhappy. Some of these stories are stronger than others and the same theme framework reverberates through the majority of the stories. It’s a good – but not great – collection that bodes well for this debut author.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sterlingcindysu

    Poor middle men. What's the first thing you think of to complete this sentence? Let's --------- the middle men. Yup, eliminate! Or cut out! These short stories are drama, not comedy. All deal with men in the middle of the pack. Maybe it's the basketball team that they're so-so at. Or they graduated from college but have failure to launch. Or they launched, but crash landed. Or they're middle aged and realized this is as far as they're going to go. They must be lucky at cards because they're unlu Poor middle men. What's the first thing you think of to complete this sentence? Let's --------- the middle men. Yup, eliminate! Or cut out! These short stories are drama, not comedy. All deal with men in the middle of the pack. Maybe it's the basketball team that they're so-so at. Or they graduated from college but have failure to launch. Or they launched, but crash landed. Or they're middle aged and realized this is as far as they're going to go. They must be lucky at cards because they're unlucky at love. The title comes from a story (in the middle as another reviewer points out!) where a guy sees two versions of himself--the young fraud and the old pro--and he's currently standing in the middle. As others are doing, I'm reading this paper version that I bought from a library book sale (remember those?) years ago and moved...another one off my TBR list. See, he doesn't look too happy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Westhoff

    I rarely read books of short stories, but this was great! The stories are about guys in their 20s who are flailing. Fucking up. They're funny, sad, and insightful. (Both the stories and the characters.) Very enjoyable. I rarely read books of short stories, but this was great! The stories are about guys in their 20s who are flailing. Fucking up. They're funny, sad, and insightful. (Both the stories and the characters.) Very enjoyable.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    This set of short stories took me completely by surprise, and Gavin's writing totally swept me off my feet. I got caught up in the first story of the basketball hopeful, and it wasn't hard to keep going after that. There is such a strong sense of place, which is evident in everything from the long freeway drives to the frequency that his characters go to Del Taco. Is Del Taco a SoCal thing? Anyway, the writing powerfully conveys certain emotions in each story, which highlight the middle-ness of t This set of short stories took me completely by surprise, and Gavin's writing totally swept me off my feet. I got caught up in the first story of the basketball hopeful, and it wasn't hard to keep going after that. There is such a strong sense of place, which is evident in everything from the long freeway drives to the frequency that his characters go to Del Taco. Is Del Taco a SoCal thing? Anyway, the writing powerfully conveys certain emotions in each story, which highlight the middle-ness of the character's situations. Some are in the middle of grief, denial, mediocrity, but all are so in the middle. It's really brilliant--the truly strong sense of middle-ness that the stories convey. The writing was powerful in its simplicity. You can feel so much meaning in the little details- from the gimp mask in "Illuminati" to the lizard at the bottom of the pool in "Costello". Once you start feeling this . . . it's no wonder that Jim Gavin is a fabulous writer. All these little details build up to convey those emotions and poignant moments in the glimpse we get of the character's life. Understated is the perfect word to describe this feeling. Understated but overwhelming and incredibly sympathetic, is what you can feel from reading this. I also particularly relished the snap with which each story ended. I don't read this kind of fiction often, but now he has me completely sold on it. http://enjoyabookblog.com

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    This is one of those collections of short stories that starts off running and just keeps going. Each entry involves a resident of California, a man who is trying to make it against the odds. Most are set in the Los Angeles area, and provide an insider's view of life in and around the fringes of The Business. Gavin has held some of the positions he describes here, and his story about the escapades of a production assistant (aka gofer) on Jeopardy! is truly hilarious. These are well crafted storie This is one of those collections of short stories that starts off running and just keeps going. Each entry involves a resident of California, a man who is trying to make it against the odds. Most are set in the Los Angeles area, and provide an insider's view of life in and around the fringes of The Business. Gavin has held some of the positions he describes here, and his story about the escapades of a production assistant (aka gofer) on Jeopardy! is truly hilarious. These are well crafted stories with a three dimensional aspect that could stand on their own as material for longer works. The material and characterizations are uniformly rich and satisfying.

  7. 4 out of 5

    William Koon

    Jim Gavin is an Orange County Ray Carver whose levels of hell include Anaheim and Garden Grove. He writes of those barely hanging on economically and morally. His plumbing salesmen make the desperation of Willy Loman look like an evening at Chucky Cheese. He also knows those who hang on in Hollywood looking for a writing break. Any break. And it ain’t coming. Neither is love in the suburbs. Or amateur athletics. Gavin sculpts some mighty damn fine stories here. There’s not a bad one in the bunch Jim Gavin is an Orange County Ray Carver whose levels of hell include Anaheim and Garden Grove. He writes of those barely hanging on economically and morally. His plumbing salesmen make the desperation of Willy Loman look like an evening at Chucky Cheese. He also knows those who hang on in Hollywood looking for a writing break. Any break. And it ain’t coming. Neither is love in the suburbs. Or amateur athletics. Gavin sculpts some mighty damn fine stories here. There’s not a bad one in the bunch. See for yourself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily Miller

    Got my hands on an ARC of this spectacular first book about Southern California and being human. Hilarious, smart, sad, true. Comes out in February. I can't recommend this highly enough. Got my hands on an ARC of this spectacular first book about Southern California and being human. Hilarious, smart, sad, true. Comes out in February. I can't recommend this highly enough.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A great read, and not just for those of us mourning the (apparent) end of Lodge 49.

  10. 4 out of 5

    L. Hanley

    Sometimes you find a writer who's singing in your same key. A writer who isn't exactly writing your story - - but whose story (or stories) might be a first or second cousin to your own. If you ever languished in the musty, scarred bleachers of a parochial school whose hallways featured chipped and worn statues of patron saints - - waiting out eternity as a bench player. If you ever wandered arm-in-arm with Ozymandias in that weird space between suburban utopia and post-industrial disintegration Sometimes you find a writer who's singing in your same key. A writer who isn't exactly writing your story - - but whose story (or stories) might be a first or second cousin to your own. If you ever languished in the musty, scarred bleachers of a parochial school whose hallways featured chipped and worn statues of patron saints - - waiting out eternity as a bench player. If you ever wandered arm-in-arm with Ozymandias in that weird space between suburban utopia and post-industrial disintegration - - an era sometimes recalled as "The Rise of the Hair Bands." If you ever felt yourself lost in the horse latitudes between blue-collar strivers and the allure of the white-collar career. If you ever measured your masculinity by an ever-expanding distance from the stolid maleness of a fading immigrant patrimony and the effortless cool of countless t.v., magazine, and movie heroes. Well, then, Jim Gavin is your man . . . These stories chronicle the fate of white manhood in an age of diminishing opportunity. From the opening story, where our hero is demoted from playing ball for Trinity Prep to joining the under-motivated crew at St. Polycarp (the names say it all) to the collection's closing diptych, where a son abandons his father's calling as a salesman and that same father senses the end of a hard-won middle-class life from the chlorinated waters of his in-ground pool - - it's all about the descent of man. Like Bobby, the protagonist of "Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror," who wanders the Bay Area charming, rudderless, and seemingly oblivious to his own precariousness, Gavin's male heroes are classic losers, not because they dream big and lose badly, but because they just can't find the offramp from their own fading mediocrity. Except for the first story, "Play the Man," where our narrator's awareness of his fall from grace stings him into a galling and hilarious observation of his declassed existence, the writing here is so good - - not because it's scalpel sharp and scintillating, but because it pulls you so gradually and inevitably into the sense of ebb-tides and erosion. In "Illuminati," for instance, Uncle Ray, who enjoys his retirement playing cards, drinking, golfing, and hanging out with his buddies, dreams up a movie project for his under-employed screenwriter nephew, our narrator. Ray's language is all "what the hell" and "Christ" and "fuck" this and that. Ray drives a Cadillac but our narrator, in what may be a fitting emblem for all of Gavin's protagonists "was still driving around on a spare tire. The Triple-A guy who had assisted me said that as long as I drove under thirty-five miles per hour, the spare wouldn't give out. Not for a while, anyway." And, so it is with the usual language of Gavin's middle men - - keeping it under 35 mph but also always keeping it interesting. What makes Gavin's collection both gripping and fascinating is his refusal to write through the lens of tragedy. Instead, Middle Men deploys a kind of sardonic detachment from grand emotions, pronouncements, and profundities. Gavin refuses the hard-boiled or the bathetic - - two of American literature's favored alternative renditions of the tragedy of the common man. This is the way the American dream ends, according to Middle Men, not with a bang or bang-bang, but with a half-remorseful, half-hearted shrug. Jim Gavin may be our next poet laureate of stagflation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Luiz

    This is a terrific collection of stories about down-and-out men in Los Angeles. Almost all are failures, but this is not a depressing collection. It’s funny and offbeat. It reminded me very much of Matthew Klam’s Sam the Cat. The stories convey the struggles of these men, but what makes the stories work isn’t the plots but the voice, tone and feel of these pieces about guys who can’t quite get anything to go their way. They are either passionately pursuing some ambition or totally confused about This is a terrific collection of stories about down-and-out men in Los Angeles. Almost all are failures, but this is not a depressing collection. It’s funny and offbeat. It reminded me very much of Matthew Klam’s Sam the Cat. The stories convey the struggles of these men, but what makes the stories work isn’t the plots but the voice, tone and feel of these pieces about guys who can’t quite get anything to go their way. They are either passionately pursuing some ambition or totally confused about what they want. But in both cases, the protagonists don’t seem defeated or even surprised when they world doesn’t deliver on any of their hopes or needs. The seven stories in the collection are: 1. Play the Man – 30 pp - A boy obsessed with basketball and dreams of getting a college scholarship has to transfer to a smaller high school because he can’t get playing time at a school with a big-time program. But the lackadaisical coach and indifferent teammates at the new school make it increasingly difficult to remain pure and singularly focused on his goal. The coach, who doesn’t how to run a practice or manage a game, is particularly funny, as he seems to think his only responbility is to deliver positive encouragement. 2. Bermuda – 34 pp - - A brilliant story about an offbeat love affair. A 23-year-old guy who delivers Meals on Wheels falls for an equally directionless 33-year-old piano teacher. In their aimlessness they find a connection, albeit temporarily. 3. Elephant Doors – 48pp --A wannabe stand-up comic with fantasies of hitting the big time spends a few weeks as a production assistant at a game show, working at the beck and call of the crazy, self-absorbed host, who lectures constantly about Belgian history. Once again, the young’s man big dreams fall short. 4. Illuminati -- 14 pp – A failed screenwriter gets a bad idea for a script from an uncle who’s made a killing in the irrigation business and who has always watched out for his nephew and the young man’s alcoholic mother. 5. Bewildered Decisions in Mercantile Terror – 38 pp – A moving story about the relationship between two cousins – a man with bipolar disorder and a woman who’s made a success of her life in marketing. They were close as children, but as adults she’s been continuously stuck with the task of getting him out of the trouble he creates in his manic phases. After years of dealing with that annoyance, she begins to feel the connection drawing her back when her career starts to fall apart. 6. Middle Men Part I - The Luau – 28 pp – The first of this two-part series on a father and son who work in plumbing sales is about the son trying to start out in the business without any experience or natural talent for sales. Some very funny stuff as the younger man partners up with a veteran colleague for a day, making his rounds in a comically inept way and getting revved up by the older man for the big party held annually by the legendary kingpin of the plumbing sales business. 7. Middle Men - Part II – 29 pp – Costello – The second part of the story offers a moving portrait of the father’s lonely life as he carries on in the aftermath of his wife’s death from cancer. The rot and emptiness of his days are all symbolized by a dead lizard at the bottom of his pool that he doesn’t want to have to deal with extracting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Outside of a few rare instances I’ve spent the majority of my life firmly – and rather comfortably – in the middle, be it class, be it management, be it casting my middle finger at others. That’s not to say I never aspired to be something more, something bigger and better; I have and still do. But from an early age I knew when to cut my losses. I grew up a baseball fanatic, a fervency that remains today. In fact, as I write this, I am wearing a Detroit Tigers tee shirt and matching headband as i Outside of a few rare instances I’ve spent the majority of my life firmly – and rather comfortably – in the middle, be it class, be it management, be it casting my middle finger at others. That’s not to say I never aspired to be something more, something bigger and better; I have and still do. But from an early age I knew when to cut my losses. I grew up a baseball fanatic, a fervency that remains today. In fact, as I write this, I am wearing a Detroit Tigers tee shirt and matching headband as if to prove my fandom. But my fascination with America’s pastime started just as it had with so many children, with dreams of playing the sport competitively, if not professionally. So when time came for little league tryouts I begged my folks to purchase all of the gear one requires; sensing my passion they relented. When I showed up to my evaluation I certainly looked the part, but soon learned – I mean, that very day – I’d never be able to play it. I was average at best and came to accept this early on. Instead, I chose to put my efforts into my knowledge of the game. I figured if I couldn’t play the role of star athlete, I could at least know my stuff about those who could. It’s an approach I’ve taken on with many things in life, when aspirations have been exhausted and dreams have been deemed unattainable. Starving professional musician or professional who moonlights as a musician (and still eats)? No-brainer. Struggling wannabe novelist or gainfully employed copywriter who scratches his creative itch writing shamelessly self-indulgent book reviews? Column B, please and thank you. All this aside I do recognize why I am comfortable with my place, for I know that while it may categorize me it does not wholly define my being. It’s why I never lead conversations as so many others do, inquiring what others “do” for a living. Yes, our jobs may help determine the course of our lives, but are we not more than our LinkedIn profiles? I’m not hating on the hustle, but to me there are few things more innocuous than talking about work. Problem is, for some that’s all they have to talk about; they live to work, not vice versa. And hey, if that’s your ultimate aspiration that’s great, for most of us cannot even pinpoint our goals before it’s too late. But I’m of the mindset we’re not thinking broadly enough; it’s as if we’ve been taught employment ascension automatically equals achievement, and anything otherwise is considered a failure. Okay, maybe “failure” is a bit harsh, but society’s perception of the middle has grown more negative. It all but suggests people on the cusp of something greater without taking into consideration the individual’s own evaluation. To me, it’s about fulfillment, and contrary to popular belief one holding a middle management position, or who is considered from an economic standpoint to be “middle class,” is still very much capable of being fulfilled. Take it from someone who’s experienced more fulfillment making his daughter breakfast than he has writing 20 years’ worth of headlines. But then there are those of us for whom a purgatorial state has become reality, who’ve mired in mediocrity for so long that it has become the aspiration itself. “It could be worse,” they may say; it’s possible you’ve said the same. I know I have. Could it also be better? Most certainly. But after striving to “be better” for so long, sometimes “just good enough” is precisely that. Such is the case with the unforgettably forgettable souls who make up writer Jim Gavin’s real hysterical stories of the real and hysterical, Middle Men. In the eight pieces which make up Gavin’s collection we meet several different “middle men” who on paper may seem like underachievers when really they’re just achievers with underwhelming accomplishments to their name. Many, if not all, purport a dreamer’s mentality yet all seem aware it to be nothing more than a façade, one too exhausting to keep up. These are men who are struggling to accept not just their place in the world, but any place anywhere. “Play the Man” opens Middle Men and from the onset are we witness to Gavin’s irreverent tone, a vital piece to his collection. Set in 1992 it tells the story of Pat Linehan, a young high school basketball player whose dreams of playing college ball are thwarted at an early age. Though undersized and undertalented, Pat believes that his former place on a championship team (whom he was all but told to leave as his playing time dwindled to nothing) will amount to stardom elsewhere. It’s the hope of his parents, too; Jim’s dad was once his coach and had similar aspirations. And yet when reality sets in and his future (or lack thereof) is sealed, Jim confesses feeling “a miraculous sense of relief because I knew it was all over, my future” for he can now proceed with the life he was meant to lead. It’s the running theme throughout Middle Men, and one which continues twofold with “Bermuda”. Here we meet a young, directionless Meals on Wheels deliverer and an older, directionless former piano prodigy brought together by chance and united by their shared, well, lack of direction. Their relationship mimics their respective lives in their current states: not much promise, but not necessarily hopeless either; a kinship in flux. “Elephant Doors’ introduces us to a production assistant (Adam) on a trivia show who becomes the personal gopher boy for its host, an enigmatic and demanding man named Max Lavoy. Adam also has dreams of becoming a stand-up comic; problem is, he’s not funny, which is proved throughout “Elephant Doors” each time he attempts humor, whether on stage or in conversation. It takes his strange relationship with Max for Adam to realize this, as well as his fate should he choose to continue on as Max’s assistant. Neither look wholly appealing. In fact, that may be the point of Middle Men altogether, to reveal our fates, as unappealing they may be, once the luster of our dreams has worn off. “Illuminati” follows a struggling screenwriter so desperate for another break (he’s had one, a buddy cop film he wrote) he drives on a spare tire (two, actually) to meet his loquacious (and wealthy) uncle (and his best friend, Fig!) and hear about his idea for a movie (but really to get a steak lunch out of it). “Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror” tells the story of Bobby and Nora, cousins who’d taken different paths in life: his, filled with promise, starting at Berkley as a student and ending in its library homeless, hopeless and helpless save for an idea for a product he’s deemed “the Man Handle”; hers, not so filled with promise (“she was a fuckup in high school”), yet leading to an important job via a less obvious route (“She went to junior college and now she’s making six figures.”), though apparently one she’s less than thrilled with. Gavin cleverly juxtaposes their individual stories before bringing them together to fittingly meet in the middle. And then there’s Middle Men’s titular story, broken into two parts to tell the story of a father-son duo navigating their respective lives within the world of plumbing sales. In part one we meet Matt, a man who eschews professional direction to care for his dying mother only to wind up pushing 30 and completely broke. He mercifully takes on a job with his father’s company despite having hardly a clue as to what he does. Gavin’s deep dive into the esoteric industry of toilet sales brings charm to this rather sad story, a precursor to his work on the woefully underappreciated television program Lodge 49. These are men whose dreams have fizzled, whose aspirations have shifted from getting ahead to getting by. But all is not hopeless with these men in the middle. Sure, they’ve missed their opportunity at bigger and better things, but Jim Gavin posits each still have a chance at some opportunity – should they choose to accept it. But that’s the conundrum with the writer’s Middle Men and with humans in general; we’re so focused on attaining our goals that anything less feels like a crushing defeat. It doesn’t have to. Fulfillment can still be achieved, even when our dreams are left otherwise. I’m proof of it and odds are, in a way, you are too.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    After blowing up on how great the Cove by Ron Rash was; I find myself compelled to write another rave review. I lliked this collection of stories by Jim Gavin even more then the Cove. Earlier this year I read and loved the Tenth of December by George Saunders.I thought this book was even better. In Gavin's six stories he chronicles the travails of a series of Southern California white guys whose lives are going nowhere fast. Gavin is funny, in the dark, black way of the Irish American Catholic a After blowing up on how great the Cove by Ron Rash was; I find myself compelled to write another rave review. I lliked this collection of stories by Jim Gavin even more then the Cove. Earlier this year I read and loved the Tenth of December by George Saunders.I thought this book was even better. In Gavin's six stories he chronicles the travails of a series of Southern California white guys whose lives are going nowhere fast. Gavin is funny, in the dark, black way of the Irish American Catholic and his narrative is a straight forward chronicle of people hanging on to the bottom rungs of the ladder in the 1990's. His tales ring true, marginal men hanging on by their fingernails in the harsh realm of modern America. Middle Men is a perfect story; and depicts the way men,surrounded by men get through their lives. A quick riff on Costello eating a hot dog dinner alone is epic and truthful and tells you everything about what it is like to cope with living alone on a down day. Maybe all the stories are a bit alike,but I think a collection should have a center of gravity; and maybe the stories will not appeal to women(although if you want to know the way we think) but the narrative and the dialogue is spot on and anyone who has ever liked tough Carverish short fiction will like this book. I am fortunate to have climbed a few more rungs up the ladder then Gavin's protagonists have but I also have felt and sometimes still feel the flop sweat associated with screwing up big time. Some of Gavin's characters do a little better then others but all of them, including Nora his sole female protagonist in Bewildered Decisions in a Time of Economic Terror (a great title -that even the highest priced wage slave should steal) are real,funny and very much worth your time. So is this book. Read it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Richard Guion

    I loved this collection of short stories, each featuring men (except for a teenage boy in one) in various stages of disaster. I'm a bit hungry for tales of California, and this book fills that need nicely. Most of them are set in the Southern California area, though one story (Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror) is set in my neck of the woods (San Francisco and Berkeley). The stories have a theme--usually men failing at some particular point in their lives--and how they realize o I loved this collection of short stories, each featuring men (except for a teenage boy in one) in various stages of disaster. I'm a bit hungry for tales of California, and this book fills that need nicely. Most of them are set in the Southern California area, though one story (Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror) is set in my neck of the woods (San Francisco and Berkeley). The stories have a theme--usually men failing at some particular point in their lives--and how they realize one particular course of action is probably futile. I love Gavin's sense of humor and I laughed out loud several times while reading. All the stories are excellent, but here are some of the funniest: Bermuda: Ever fall in love with someone who was totally strange and a bit indifferent? But couldn't help yourself? This one is for you. Elephant Doors: Adam becomes a production assistant on a game show that bears a striking resemblance to The Price is Right. The star of the show, Max Lavoy (who seems a lot like Bob Barker) is feuding with his ex-wife over a dog. Hilarity ensues. Illuminati: Sean, a screenwriter down on his luck, gets a call from his Uncle Ray to meet him at the golf course, so Ray and his buddy Fig can tell him a sure-fire hit story idea for a movie. Short but sweet, I busted a gut laughing. Middle Men: Plumbing salesmen, one a father, the other a son. Both driving on the freeways of hell to make a living selling the Ultima 900 toilet.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Blanchette

    Jim Gavin writes true to life stories about guys we all know. They may be our brothers, our husbands, our friends. They are people struggling with work, money, family and trying to figure out where they are headed and what life is all about. I loved these stories and could so relate to the angst many of the characters were experiencing. Work is always a factor in their lives and not always a good one. The dialogue is smart and funny and some of the characters are priceless. I love Ray and Fig in Jim Gavin writes true to life stories about guys we all know. They may be our brothers, our husbands, our friends. They are people struggling with work, money, family and trying to figure out where they are headed and what life is all about. I loved these stories and could so relate to the angst many of the characters were experiencing. Work is always a factor in their lives and not always a good one. The dialogue is smart and funny and some of the characters are priceless. I love Ray and Fig in the story Illuminati. They were hysterically funny and could be anyone's uncle. Larry Rembert in Middle Men Part 1: The Luau is one of the best fictional characters I have come across in a long time. As a struggling writer myself, some of the lines rang so true. When a character in Illuminati says "soon I would be starting over at a temp agency, trying to raise my scores on the Excel test" I laughed out loud. Been there, doing that now. And "my exalted visions of my future also involve sitting next to one of those zero horizon pools that seem to blend into the ocean." I will be there once the royalties start rolling in. I love Jim Gavin's portrayal of the struggling middle class trying to make ends meet, something I too tried to portray in my novel. Great read. Check it out.

  16. 4 out of 5

    James Korsmo

    In this outstanding collection of short stories, Jim Gavin brings to life an array of men (and a few supporting women as well) who are struggling their way through life. The central characters range from a high-school basketball player to a plumbing-products representative on the verge of retirement, though his main focus is on men in their late twenties and early thirties. Gavin gives a window in to the lives of each, their hopes and dreams, as well their struggles. The composite picture that e In this outstanding collection of short stories, Jim Gavin brings to life an array of men (and a few supporting women as well) who are struggling their way through life. The central characters range from a high-school basketball player to a plumbing-products representative on the verge of retirement, though his main focus is on men in their late twenties and early thirties. Gavin gives a window in to the lives of each, their hopes and dreams, as well their struggles. The composite picture that emerges presents plenty of futility and listlessness, though it isn't completely without hope. These stories provide an insightful portrait of life that is coming to typify a generation, though it certainly isn't restricted to today's twenties and thirties. Gavin also wrestles with the question of role models and influences. I think the question of what it means to be a man in today's Western culture is an essential one. I too have lived the listlessness of an uncertain future and no clear plan, and these characters certainly ring true to that. But this is an even bigger issue for me as a father to three young boys. So savor these stories, and wrestle with these questions. We must. Thanks to the publisher and the Amazon Vine program for the review copy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Glen Creason

    This is one of those books that makes you vibrate inside and find parts of yourself on every page. Gavin takes everyday life in SoCal and takes a hard but compassionate look at ordinary people. You will find no heroes here but you will find those who finish the marathon of working for a living with honor and love in their hearts. You will find people you want to hug and those you want to tell to fuck off. Very often I knew exactly what the author was trying to say and identified closely with man This is one of those books that makes you vibrate inside and find parts of yourself on every page. Gavin takes everyday life in SoCal and takes a hard but compassionate look at ordinary people. You will find no heroes here but you will find those who finish the marathon of working for a living with honor and love in their hearts. You will find people you want to hug and those you want to tell to fuck off. Very often I knew exactly what the author was trying to say and identified closely with many of the sad situations the young men face in the stories. I have been to the Luau and this writer made it so very real. This is a wonderful collection and I haven't enjoyed such as much since "Winesburg Ohio."

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Lamb

    Received copy of ARC through Goodreads Giveaways. These six stories are great accounts of people in flux. There are many moment I found myself laughing out loud but never at the expense of his characters. The stories "Play the Man" and "Elephant Doors" are my favorite stories from this collection. "Play the Man" details the life of a teenage basketball player starting anew after being cut from his previous school, and the ending of the story brought a smile. "Elephant Doors" is about a stand-up c Received copy of ARC through Goodreads Giveaways. These six stories are great accounts of people in flux. There are many moment I found myself laughing out loud but never at the expense of his characters. The stories "Play the Man" and "Elephant Doors" are my favorite stories from this collection. "Play the Man" details the life of a teenage basketball player starting anew after being cut from his previous school, and the ending of the story brought a smile. "Elephant Doors" is about a stand-up comedian and his day job working as a PA for a game show. All of the stories are fully realized slices of life, and I highly recommend it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Montgomery

    I'm not generally a fan of the short story, but several readers I respect gave this collection rave reviews so I decide to read it. Jim Gavin writes well; his characters, descriptions and plots are both cleverly drawn and relatable. I would have loved to see some of the stories continue, as I quickly became invested in the characters and wanted to see what happened next. Although there is a slightly sad tone to these stories -- all the protagonists are underachievers in already low on the totem I'm not generally a fan of the short story, but several readers I respect gave this collection rave reviews so I decide to read it. Jim Gavin writes well; his characters, descriptions and plots are both cleverly drawn and relatable. I would have loved to see some of the stories continue, as I quickly became invested in the characters and wanted to see what happened next. Although there is a slightly sad tone to these stories -- all the protagonists are underachievers in already low on the totem pole jobs -- Mr. Gavin also conveys there is also something uplifting about the human condition. I definitely closed the book with a smile on my face.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Martin

    Great book. Super fun read. I laughed out loud so many times! Middle Men follows the lives of several men in various stages of their lives: some at the beginning, full of hopes and dreams, some are in the middle, pragmatic and settled into reality, and some are past their unachieved dreams, grinding out what's left. At times a bit sobering, these short stories shed light on the reality of men who have started off on the wrong foot in life, and who probably won't achieve much, but my word are thes Great book. Super fun read. I laughed out loud so many times! Middle Men follows the lives of several men in various stages of their lives: some at the beginning, full of hopes and dreams, some are in the middle, pragmatic and settled into reality, and some are past their unachieved dreams, grinding out what's left. At times a bit sobering, these short stories shed light on the reality of men who have started off on the wrong foot in life, and who probably won't achieve much, but my word are these funny. Definitely worth checking out. You can see my video review here -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw3ET...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sidney

    I loved this book because it reminded me of guys I used to know. And I hated the book for the same reason. If you read the book you'll notice the presence of Del Taco specials, Del Taco wrappers, etc. in most of the stories. When I was almost done with the book and running errands I ended up driving behind a junker old car with a 20ish shirtless fellow driving very slowly (attempting to keep his door shut while shifting gears). I was just shaking my head thinking that this guy could be a charact I loved this book because it reminded me of guys I used to know. And I hated the book for the same reason. If you read the book you'll notice the presence of Del Taco specials, Del Taco wrappers, etc. in most of the stories. When I was almost done with the book and running errands I ended up driving behind a junker old car with a 20ish shirtless fellow driving very slowly (attempting to keep his door shut while shifting gears). I was just shaking my head thinking that this guy could be a character in the book I was reading. Sure enough, a mile down the street, he pulls into a Del Taco.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Enjoyed all of the stories. I liked the writer's style and setting of the mood. Every story had a moment where I burst out laughing from a surprise. And each story made me ponder afterwards which is always a sign of a good piece of art. As an appreciator of sadness documenting, I commend the author's ability to convey the sense of downtrodden existence while providing for a glimmer of hope in the character's extricating themselves from the ruts they are in. Enjoyed all of the stories. I liked the writer's style and setting of the mood. Every story had a moment where I burst out laughing from a surprise. And each story made me ponder afterwards which is always a sign of a good piece of art. As an appreciator of sadness documenting, I commend the author's ability to convey the sense of downtrodden existence while providing for a glimmer of hope in the character's extricating themselves from the ruts they are in.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Hartzler

    Jim Gavin's masterful stories create an achingly authentic portrait of life in Southern California where "Anaheim is beautiful...All that concrete crisscrossing in the air..." The humor and heart found in these seven short stories is the stuff of fighting back tears. These characters have more than California in common. They each have a lump in their throat for different reasons. Identifiable, hilarious, brutal, and compulsively readable. Don't cheat yourself out of this one. Jim Gavin's masterful stories create an achingly authentic portrait of life in Southern California where "Anaheim is beautiful...All that concrete crisscrossing in the air..." The humor and heart found in these seven short stories is the stuff of fighting back tears. These characters have more than California in common. They each have a lump in their throat for different reasons. Identifiable, hilarious, brutal, and compulsively readable. Don't cheat yourself out of this one.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    All these stories seem to share the same character – some young guy who's been knocked off course, who can barely do more than regard the wreck of his life with stunned detachment. Fortunately Gavin's a great writer with a gift for deadpan. The comedy is as dry as the air in LA. I didn't care what happened to any of these guys but I enjoyed their company. All these stories seem to share the same character – some young guy who's been knocked off course, who can barely do more than regard the wreck of his life with stunned detachment. Fortunately Gavin's a great writer with a gift for deadpan. The comedy is as dry as the air in LA. I didn't care what happened to any of these guys but I enjoyed their company.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Howard Junker

    I published his first story in Winter 2001, then another-—he hadn't seemed to have done much—-in 2007-—he had discovered his own voice—-when he was a Stegner. It's taken him a while, but he has broken through. Godspeed. I published his first story in Winter 2001, then another-—he hadn't seemed to have done much—-in 2007-—he had discovered his own voice—-when he was a Stegner. It's taken him a while, but he has broken through. Godspeed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bentson

    Excellent! The quote on the cover has an excellent description, that the author is not afraid of the dark, or of the light.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eddie

    Like vegan ice cream, it's not bad, it's not great, it's kind of boring, but there's something admirable about the concept. Like vegan ice cream, it's not bad, it's not great, it's kind of boring, but there's something admirable about the concept.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Sullivan

    Perfect For Anyone Still Trying to Figure Life Out This was a fun read. What began as an assignment for my fiction workshop class quickly turned into pleasure reading. Highly recommend for college students and men in their 20s/30s. Middle Men beautifully unpacks the messiness of life. The narrators can be awkward, uncertain, self-depricating, and clueless, but their hearts always seem to be in the right place and they fail good-naturedly. It's a story about chasing something -- seeking after some v Perfect For Anyone Still Trying to Figure Life Out This was a fun read. What began as an assignment for my fiction workshop class quickly turned into pleasure reading. Highly recommend for college students and men in their 20s/30s. Middle Men beautifully unpacks the messiness of life. The narrators can be awkward, uncertain, self-depricating, and clueless, but their hearts always seem to be in the right place and they fail good-naturedly. It's a story about chasing something -- seeking after some vision for ourselves but not being sure how to get there. Jim Gavin shows that the road can be brutal, but how we react to the circumstances is everything. The stories call for reflection on how society and we, as individuals, define success. But it's transmitted in a light way, which makes it approachable and downright hilarious. Gavin brings us a unique and unforgettable perspective on the world. One where young men frantically hide their spunk-covered boxers, ride on a Vespa with a stranger in Bermuda, and share a futon with a Ringo Starr lookalike. I'm glad to have read it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    I was bummed when Lodge 49 was canceled halfway into its mystical journey through the four classical elements (or maybe it was just a gas leak), but I was probably part of the problem: I waited until the show hit Hulu to watch each season, like the cordcutting, Kindle-reading, “digital first” IT sysadmin that I am. Looking for closure, I tried to find it in the show’s titular inspiration, “The Crying of Lot 49” by Thomas Pynchon. Great novel, but anyone who’s read it will know why it challenged I was bummed when Lodge 49 was canceled halfway into its mystical journey through the four classical elements (or maybe it was just a gas leak), but I was probably part of the problem: I waited until the show hit Hulu to watch each season, like the cordcutting, Kindle-reading, “digital first” IT sysadmin that I am. Looking for closure, I tried to find it in the show’s titular inspiration, “The Crying of Lot 49” by Thomas Pynchon. Great novel, but anyone who’s read it will know why it challenged and didn’t satisfy my completionist tendencies. While we still won’t know the fate of the Lynx Lodge, showrunner Jim Gavin’s collection of short stories paints a similar picture of the lives of some down-on-their-luck southern Californians. We trade out Pynchon’s Cornell-educated connections to the wealthy for Gavin’s decidedly more blue-collar background, including some plumbing salesmen that have probably had a beer with Ernie Fontaine. Throughout, the relatable characters are forced to learn life’s lessons inside themselves, not relying on the suburban lifestyle that is all too sadly crumbling around them.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Corey Preston

    Jim Gavin is responsible for the wondrous alchemy that is Lodge 49, and thats why I was eager to read this book (which was written long before the show). That the book came up short - despite countless echoes with Lodge - was probably inevitable, in hindsight. Setting aside the different mediums, if I had to define what made Lodge revelatory, and what made Middle Men fall flat, its that the show had a generous, complex, urgent point of view, and the book feels doomed and determined to avoid one. G Jim Gavin is responsible for the wondrous alchemy that is Lodge 49, and thats why I was eager to read this book (which was written long before the show). That the book came up short - despite countless echoes with Lodge - was probably inevitable, in hindsight. Setting aside the different mediums, if I had to define what made Lodge revelatory, and what made Middle Men fall flat, its that the show had a generous, complex, urgent point of view, and the book feels doomed and determined to avoid one. Gavin is clearly interested in the crisis afflicting American men. We're floundering, failing, falling woefully behind, and then turning all that failure into crippling anger and shame. Lodge 49 took this sad reality on, head-on, to delirious and moving effect; Middle Men seems content to document it, nothing more. In times like these, we all need more. And its cool as hell that Jim Gavin took the missteps of this book, and turned them into something remarkable in another medium. Skip the book; watch the show; demand a season 3!

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.