Monday, October 28, 2013
Jim Gavin's Story Collection: Middle Men
As writers so often do, Jim Gavin precedes his collection of stories with a quote meant to give a literary compass bearing, a hint in the search for artistic intention. As readers often do, I had forgot the quote by the time I had finished the book, and it was only when searching for the table of contents that I rediscovered it and had a chance to ponder the author's choice. On an otherwise blank page is reprinted two sentences from the illustrious and fittingly irreverent James Joyce:
Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law, but always meeting ourselves.
It occurs to me that these quotes would be better placed at the end of the book. They are more capable of casting light back onto the recollections of the reader then forward onto story as it unfolds. This bit of Joyce seemed unremarkable when I first encountered it, the statement is true in an obvious way and the list of encounters seemed more incidental than integral, but at the second encounter it revealed itself as a thematic bulls-eye and also a lens with which to see the unifying traits of the characters of Middle Men: a self awareness that comes only through the daily encounter with others and with the life you are actually living.
The stories are populated with definitively unexceptional people, people without the skills or convictions necessary to support their dreams of the American good life, people whose worldviews and self image and cracking under the weight of the cultural ideals they are not living up to. Many of the stories are sad, they are about losing your raison d'être, stumbling through your romantic gestures, wasting your time, hating your job, losing interest in your friendships and falling short of your goals, but the wry, distinctly American humor wards of sentimentality and pain. It is the sugar that mellows the bitter medicine of honesty, allowing the reader to reflect on their own shortcomings and laugh at the preposterous nature American dreams instead of crying at their daily struggle to reach them. The good feeling you are left with at the end of each story is not a result of success at the narrative climax, but the rewards of a character's accumulation of de facto self awareness, the kind that builds from going day by day through life meeting ourselves in other people.