Middle Men: Stories by Jim Gavin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. 221 pp)
Jim Gavin’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Slice, The Mississippi Review, and ZYZZYVA. He lives in Los Angeles.
Collections of stories always have a theme. Whether they be reckless love, feigned innocence, or even dark horror, sometimes the overarching theme makes the collection either completely worthwhile or rather dull. Jim Gavin, in his debut collection of stories, finds a theme centered around the city of Los Angeles, and the men who inhabit it. The stories feature men making disastrous decisions, and then following them to their conclusions in an incredibly bathetic way. The theme of men trying to figure life out isn’t exactly a new revelation to literature, but Gavin gives life to the pedantic meanderings of foolish men in a way that is intensely fascinating. It is their dreams that sustain them, rather than reality.
In the story, “Bermuda”, a twenty-something man travels all the way to Bermuda (after getting fired from a meals-on-wheels food truck) to gain closure on an ended relationship.
“I once chased a girl to Bermuda. Her name was Karen and we met ten years ago, by accident, shortly after she moved to Los Angeles” (31).
Karen, his beloved, moved to paradise to teach music (not a bad idea). The man tries desperately to win her back, though a series of humbling and hilarious pages. He knows he can’t win her back, but certainly tries. As his narrative unfolds, he realizes it’s not in the cards to win her back, but like so many brash men in their twenties, follows the narrative to its very humiliating finale because he cannot see any other way out.
Yet another story, “Illuminati” portrays a battered screenwriter still hanging on to the false hope of success.
“Two years ago, all my dumb ideas and tenuous connections came together. I sold a screenplay to a finance company that was working with a production company that was developing a project for a pair of comedians who had appeared in commercials for a popular men’s body wash that wanted to distinguish their brand by underwriting a feature film in which the body wash somehow played a crucial role in the plot” (119).
Long after his initial “glory” has faded, the screenwriter still plots away in attempts to make a name for himself. He tries to make a “multi-ethnic buddy cop adventure comedy” called Hyde & Sikh, hardly the success story he intends.
Finally, the set of stories ends in a poignant story about a Father-and-Son sales team wherein the son isn’t nearly as in love with the profession as the father. The set of stories is hopelessly simple, yet within are stories of extreme compassion, hilarity, barbarity, and stupidity; the stores are everything you would expect brash men to portray. By design, Middle Men: Stories offers an extremely narrow set of stories, characters, and settings. But, perhaps that is how it should be. Jim Gavin is a future author to watch for.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
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