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Middle Men: Stories Paperback – February 11, 2014


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Middle Men: Stories + Varieties of Exile (New York Review Books Classics Series) + Collected Stories (Penguin Classics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451649347
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451649345
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Reading Gavin’s first story collection is like listening to a bunch of guys swapping stories in a bar. The storytellers take hard looks at themselves, softened by a small gloss of nostalgia for better times and brighter dreams. Although Gavin’s characters seem quite similar, the stories they tell, of men searching for ways to bridge where they are and where they want to be, are distinctive and powerful. These “middle men,” all living in California, as evidenced by the recurrent appearance of Del Taco, know what it means to see the goal and know that it can’t be reached. 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. --Bridget Thoreson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Which really isn't important except in saying I'm a Californian going way back.
Patrick O
This debut collection shows the fine and distinctive voice of an excellent new short story author.
K. Bunker
I thought the style of writing was good, but the stories themselves were too bland.
asiana

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was excited to find out that Jim Gavin studied under my favorite short story writer Tobias Wolff. Gavin's stories, I assumed, would be influenced by that genius. Middle Men, which deals with intelligent young men trapped in the existential vacuum, does not disappoint. The prose is exact, often deeply funny, and never pretentious. The observations, such as middle-aged men using a urinal with their arms akimbo, is perfect pitch and I was jealous at some of the passages.

What I like about these stories is that they feel autobiographical and "lived," yet they have been shaped the way a short story is shaped so there is an artistry and form as opposed to crude autobiography.

The themes and main characters in the stories are all similar. Young men are lost, saddled with spiritual depression and the lack of a moral compass. There are no role models or higher ideals to aspire to. In this regard, the collection is dark.

But the triumph of the writing is Gavin's humor and his ability to show the main characters' skepticism as they're faced with phonies, braggarts, ignoramuses, wannabe rock stars, misfits, sloths, and false prophets.

The first story "Play the Man" is about a sexually-repressed fifteen year old high school basketball player who eats Costco lasagna, listens to lame bromides from his basketball coach, and dips his acne-ridden face in his neighbor's pool so the chlorine will dry out his pimples. There are many David Sedaris moments in this story, which asks the question: What does it mean to "play the man"? What if there is no worthy model to emulate? Where do we go from there?

My favorite story, "Bermuda," is the most plot-driven.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Neal Reynolds VINE VOICE on April 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Men especially, but probably lady readers also, may uncomfortably find themselves in these stories. The stories are highly effective in plumbing the depths of the characters and many of us will recognize the thoughts and frustrations. This is a dark collection, and none of the characters happen to be winners in life. It's more a case of trying to make sense of life.

There's little plot in these stories, the notable exception being "Bermuda", arguably the stellar story here.

The journey in this collection is dark, but revealing, especially to those 35 and under who will be most able to use these stories to improve their paths. Nevertheless, I do recommend this to all, especially us guys and also career women.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By 35-year Technology Consumer TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The overwhelming lack of mainstream popular interest in short fiction is a puzzle to me...and more so in a time when we seemingly prefer our entertainment distilled into three-minute YouTube clips or other manageable chunks that the short story seems so suited for. My puzzlement deepens when presented with a compendium of short stories as strong as the ones in "Middle Men".

Collectively, the protagonists in these stories are all young adult Californians, each circling in an orbit placing them somewhere between respectability and slackerdom. Jim Gavin lays out their lives in simple and non-judgmental terms, providing illumination with humor and surrounding the narrators with entertaining foils. I stopped dogging the ears of the pages with the best lines, because there were so many of them.

All of these stories are strong, but if you so pressed for time that you can't take on all seven: then start with "Play the Man", "Bermuda" and "Illuminati". Each presents central characters at intersections, and their choices are marvelously illustrated by the author.

Good, contemporary American fiction...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ace VINE VOICE on April 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It was hard to get into the characters or under their skin in these fast-paced short stories. Characters living under the edge, cursing, drinking, doing drugs, giving up (the fire alarm at the basketball game) emotionally short changing themselves, their lives and that of others.

In all the stories, I get the sense of lives lived in "quiet desperation", a theme which runs throughout the book. Now if that was the author's aim, then it came off splendidly. In only one story was I able to connect with or empathize with any of the characters - "Bermuda" coming close to resembling a failed relationship of my youth - but even there, the narrative and dialogue came through as being flat.

So, if a flat landscape of action suffused with melancholy and depression was the author's intent, he succeeded admirably.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schoonover VINE VOICE on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
MIDDLE MEN consists of seven short stories about men working in Southern California (wait make that six the action in one takes place in the Bay area though the main characters are SoCal natives). To some extent the stories are arranged chronologically be the age and status of the main character.

In the first story "Play the Man" we have a sixteen year old basketball player who is also starting his first job as a K Mart associate.

"Bermuda" is about a young man who works part time delivering meals for the elderly in LA, lives in a crowded apartment with aspiring band members and finds an older girlfriend who is a pianist. Said girlfriend moves to Bermuda to teach music.

ELEPHANT DOORS concerns a twenty something young man who works as an assistant on a JEOPARDY like quiz show by day and tries to make it as a comedian by night.

The main character in "ILLUMINATI" has sold his first screenplay though its production has stalled. He has an interesting relationship with his uncle who has made it big in Riverside County in the irrigation business.

A mentally unstable plumber and his female cousin who makes "six figures" working in the high tech industry are featured in "Bewildered Decisions in Times of Mercantile Terror" which is the story with the Northern California setting though the characters originated in the southern part of the state.

The title story "Middle Men" is the last and has two parts. The first is called "The Luau" and describes the life of a thirty year old man trying to make a career in the bewildering world of toilet sales. The second part "Costello" is about his sixty year old widowed father who is a "lifer" in the same field.
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