David Hollis, “outsider,” “consummate anti-hero” (130), and “intellectual machine” (102) explains away life with the humor and wit of a convoluted Dennis Miller monologue, the dirty savant barfly philosophy of Tom Waits, and the Hollywood literateur persona of Bret Easton Ellis. Love him (most do) or hate him (most will eventually), Hollis is an arresting personality, beautifully explored and displayed in C.M Barons’s novel, In The Midst Of.Odds are that a reader’s first introduction to In The Midst Of will unfortunately not be a positive one. Published through a vanity press, having a vague, clichéd title, and given a poorly designed circa 1992 website presence, C.M Barons’s debut novel has much stacked against it. But I assure you, In The Midst Of is near perfect.From sentence one (“My neighbor was taken away in an ambulance”), Barons displays an impressive confidence with his writing. Hollis, being such an intelligent character, demands smooth writing and an equally intelligent author to both fully develop his persona as well as put him within a context of comparatively simple characters. Barons delivers both, broad intellect with the vocabulary to support it.Story wise, In The Midst Of is a straightforward college life story revolving around Brian, a forgettable Nick Carraway to Hollis’s Jay Gatsby. In much the same way that the Great Gatsby presents its narrator as a tool for showcasing another, more interesting character, In The Midst Of is all about Hollis. So why tell the story through Brian? As Cindy, Brian’s girlfriend describes Hollis, one can image a Hollis story being textbook dense with occasional moments of empathy:You know, you can’t stand the idea of being human. You’re Hollis the intellectual machine. You don’t enjoy books; you read literature. You aren’t into music; you collect blues albums. You can’t lower your guard for a second. You resent life. You pick it apart with philosophy and politics. Do you know why they call modern art, abstract?...because, it doesn’t look like anything. (102)And this overbearing intelligence marks one of the few faults with In The Midst Of. Every ten pages or so Hollis embraces encyclopedic tangents for seemingly no other reason than to announce his intelligence, creating what the reader can only assume is a vehicle to reveal the author’s own intelligence. While interesting as standalone explorations, these digressions do not serve the central story.Hollis, “he’s an outsider, because he’s doing what everybody wishes they could. He’s got no causes; not out to overthrow anything. He’s the consummate anti-hero. He has this thing about irony. That’s his advantage; he never gets so close he gets taken in by what he’s looking at” (130). And this is exactly what makes In The Midst Of work; Hollis is who we want to be, whether we knew it before reading, or whether we care to admit it afterwards.