Middle Men

Jim Gavin. Simon & Schuster, $22 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4931-4
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/05/2012
Release date: 02/12/2013
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FORMATS
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-4516-4936-9
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-1-4516-4934-5
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