The Pugilist at Rest: Stories

Thom Jones, Author
Thom Jones, Author Little Brown and Company $18.95 (230p) ISBN 978-0-316-47302-6
Reviewed on: 05/31/1993
Release date: 06/01/1993
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-316-47304-0
Paperback - 230 pages - 978-0-571-17135-4
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0767-6
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One might have to reach back to Raymond Carver's Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (which copped the National Book Award for fiction in 1976) to find a debut collection that is so compelling and original. There are instant classics here: the title story, which soars from the horrors of Vietnam to the besplattered arenas of amateur boxing to disquisitions on war and madness and God; ``Unchain My Heart,'' about a magazine editor's love affair with a deep sea-diver--``He smells of sea salt, tobacco, and musk. Barechested, his muscles are taut, hard and slablike . . . His hands are blue from the cold of hanging idle at his recompression stops . . . . When Bocassio arises from the floor of the ocean, his lovemaking is out of this world. There's a reason for this. He's breathing heavy concentrations of nitrogen and it gives him a hard-on that won't quit.'' Throughout these stories, memories of fear and violence in late 20th-century America propel narratives that flash and burn and reconstitute themselves in unfailingly stunning fashions: an amnesiac ad executive from L.A. reels from a bus crash onto the edge of the Arabian Sea in Bombay and works to revive a dying horse in the surf; after a bout, a young boxer--with a ``sinister set of reddish-black stitches bristling under the curve of each eyebrow''--drives his dead-drunk trainer to detox where they will talk about Nietzsche. ``Soak your face in brine twice a day,'' says the trainer, ``and read the man.'' Jones's voice, no matter the persona, is irresistible--sharp, angry, poetic. His characters--among them a struggling special-ed student, a rebel physician, and a woman suffering through chemotherapy--are scarred, spirited survivors of drug abuse, war and life's cruel tricks. With references ranging from rock 'n' roll to Schopenhauer, from Dostoyevski to Joe Louis, Jones is sure to command a mighty audience--not only of literary readers, but also of people who did not know their stories could be told. (June)
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