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Middle Men


About The Book

A powerful, funny, and wise debut from a writer Esquire praises as “the second coming of Denis Johnson.”

In this widely acclaimed story collection, Jim Gavin delivers a hilarious and panoramic vision of California, in which a number of down-on-their-luck men, from young dreamers to old vets, make valiant forays into middle-class respectability. Each of the men in Gavin’s stories is stuck somewhere in the middle, caught halfway between his dreams and the often crushing reality of his life. A work of profound humanity that pairs moments of high comedy with searing truths about life’s missed opportunities, Middle Men brings to life unforgettable characters as they learn what it means to love and work and exist in the world as a man.

Hailed as a “modern-day Dubliners” (Time Out ) and “reminiscent of Tom Perotta’s best work” (The Boston Globe), this stellar debut has the Los Angeles Review of Books raving, “Middle Men deserves its hype and demonstrates a top-shelf talent. . . . A brilliant sense of humor animates each story and creates a state of near-continuous reading pleasure.”

About The Author

Photography by Fred Schroeder

Jim Gavin’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Esquire, Slice, The Mississippi Review, and ZYZZYVA. He lives in Los Angeles.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 11, 2014)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451649345

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Raves and Reviews

Middle Men deserves its hype and demonstrates a top-shelf talent….A brilliant sense of humor that animates each story and creates a state of near-continuous reading pleasure….A superlative debut.”

– Los Angeles Review of Books

“Excellent….extremely entertaining….Gavin’s writing delivers jab after jab, the hilarious and the poignant mingling in compelling ways….He has a way of quickly and vividly drawing the minor characters who drift in and out of his stories….Overall, Gavin’s writing is eminently readable and reminiscent of some of Tom Perrotta’s best work.”

– Boston Globe

“With impressive precision, [Gavin] describes everything from being creatively unfulfilled to dodging landlords looking for back rent…. his writing achieves new insight, power and grace.”

– Time Out Chicago

“Who is Jim Gavin? The second coming of Denis Johnson if his debut collection is any indication. These sad, funny stories about nowhere men—some young, some bent-backed, all pained and searching for something they’ll never find—knocked me out….These short stories will transport you, will educate you, will entertain you, will fill you with fear and laughter and sadness.”

– Esquire

“Middle Men” aspires to do what ambitious fiction has always done: show the world (especially the world we think we know) in a way that's recognizable and revealing, while telling us something fundamental about where and how we live.”

– The Los Angeles Times, 'Faces to Watch'

“New Yorker contributor Jim Gavin's debut story collection, praised as "exceptional" in a starred Kirkus review, portrays a group of men whose dreams are at odds with the reality of their lives.”

– Chicago Tribune, 'What to Read in 2013'

“A book of hilarious and moving short stories from New Yorker contributor Gavin, who portrays a group of men of various ages in California as they try to find that space somewhere between their dreams and their actual lives.”

– Atlantic Wire

“A hilarious and moving debut of stories.”

– AM New York (interview)

“[A] superb debut collection….laugh-out-loud funny…. all of Gavin’s stories are gems….Middle Men [is], as all good collections should be, greater in total than merely a succession of well-crafted stories.”

– The Millions

Middle Men is a fantastic book…The stories here that stick the hardest…are symphonic triumphs, gut-wrenchers of male life.”

– Brooklyn Rail

“Sad and funny…Middle Men captures its mishap-prone and chronically underemployed characters on the cusp of moving beyond their muddled dreams of grandeur.”


“Jim Gavin is the real deal….[he] confronts [Southern California] with the power and weary enthusiasm of a D.J. Waldie, Joan Didion or Raymond Chandler….Perfect.”


“Gavin's characters are funny and sad….These lovable souls have held onto their dignity but not a whole lot more….This is a writer who understands both the painful and the beautiful moments that make up a human life, and spending time with his characters is a great gift. This collection is a triumph of storytelling and Gavin's loose, relaxed prose is nearly perfect.”

– Omaha World Herald

“Laugh-out-loud funny…[A] stellar collection marked by an irreverent, deadpan humor and postmodern sensibility.”

– Library Journal (starred review)

“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. . . . [He] 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.”

– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Gavin's exceptional debut collection, set mainly in southern California, harkens to an earlier literary Los Angeles…[Middle Men is] the best kind of satire: barbed and hilarious, but suffused with compassion.”

– Kirkus (starred review)

“Distinctive and powerful….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.”

– Booklist

"Jim Gavin's Middle Men is perfectly titled -- these are characters gloriously unaware of how adrift they are. Gnostic high school basketballers, romantic pursuers, open mic comedians -- I've rarely seen such a keen depiction of souls so out of focus. These stories -- especially "Elephant Doors" -- brought back some hilarious, uncomfortable memories for me. Immerse yourself! Immerse!"

– Patton Oswalt, author of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

"The best debut collection of short stories I've read in a very long time."

– Adam Haslett, author of Union Atlantic

“Jim Gavin’s stories are wise and funny and not at all afraid of the dark, or the light. Middle Men is a very powerful debut.”

– Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

“With its sharply drawn characters, its humor and affection and melancholy, its deep wisdom of the ways we live and cope and endure, and its panoramic and precise vision of California, Middle Men is a phenomenal story collection, and Jim Gavin an extravagantly talented writer. I could not put this book down. Gavin brings the California and SoCal I know and love to the page with searing intelligence, beauty, and an emotive force, making Middle Men one of the finest and most unusual fictions I’ve read in years.”

– Victoria Patterson, author of Drift and This Vacant Paradise

“Like the heroes of this stunning collection, Jim Gavin’s stories negotiate and illuminate the gray, authentic middle, bridging the divide that exists between California’s—and indeed, America’s—golden mythology and her starker realities. There is deep truth, beauty, and humor to be found in this territory, and in Gavin we have found the ultimate emissary. This book is an absolute triumph of sympathy and revelation.”

– Skip Horack, author of The Eden Hunter and The Southern Cross

“I love the wit and intelligence and rigor with which Jim Gavin renders characters who find themselves spiraling down the water column. Middle Men is peerless in its portraits of American males dimly coming to appreciate the disastrous convergence of their own fecklessness and feelings of entitlement with the increasingly unforgiving hard times bearing down on them, and on most of the rest of us as well.”

– Jim Shepard, author of You Think That's Bad and Liked You'd Understand, Anyway

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