cover image Night Train

Night Train

Thom Jones. Little, Brown, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-44934-2

This volume collects 26 shocking, grimly humorous stories (seven previously unpublished) by the author of The Pugilist at Rest and two other short story collections. Jones, who died in 2016, crammed whole disorganized lives into his stories, which are often told in the deluded voices of drug and alcohol–addled protagonists who also suffer from a wide range of medical complaints. In “The Black Lights,” a Marine who has been in more than 150 boxing matches and now has temporal lobe injuries is sent to a military neuro-psych ward and observes the doctors and patients there with mordant wit. Jones is an uneven writer at best, with moments of remarkable power alternating with sloppy passages. The volume, arranged in roughly chronological order, suggests a downhill slide in his work, which became increasingly crass and decreasingly compassionate. One example of this is “Tarantula,” which envisions the many horrors visited on an ambitious high school administrator by his underlings. Another later, uneven story is “Diary of My Health,” which consists of a dated series of diary entries of the physical symptoms of, and drugs consumed by, a protagonist who shares the author’s name. While perhaps more Jones than the casual reader will want to handle, this collection condenses his literary output into an accessible volume with some standout stories. (Oct.)