The author's world encompasses dilapidated fight arenas, state mental hospitals & chaotic emergency rooms. The inhabitants are his brilliantly etched characters, who battle desperately against fate in a game of life they cannot win but dare not lose. As we approach the end of the century & the millennium, no one writes better or more vividly than Jones does about the personal, private apocalypses we all face in our darkest moments. In one story, a Vietnam vet, a Recon Marine, swims alone across the English Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, & the Bosporus to maintain "the edge" that kept him alive in wartime - & that is all he now has left. In another, a brilliant doctor verges on a breakdown. In the title story, a young amateur fighter stoically endures repetitive beatings because he knows the world of boxing shields & protects him from the even crueler world outside of the ring. A number of these stories have appeared in different forms in the New Yorker, Playboy, & Esquire.
Like any good prizefighter, Jones (The Pugilist at Rest) sticks to what he does best, perfects his technique and doesn't waste his energy. The 12 stories in his third collection are as recognizably his as is any champion's style: crazed, damaged, hell-bent characters banging around in a product-strewn American landscape trying in some fashion, in whatever fashion is handy, to feel good. All this is delivered in a voice that is colloquial, tough-guy and well-read. In the title story, Jones goes inside amateur boxing to follow Kid Dynamite, who fights for an innocent glory, but also to impress his girlfriend and, typically, his stepfather. His big moment is having his broken nose noticed by Sonny Liston at a publicity event. Other stories feature a hypochondriac layabout son tormenting his dying mother ("40, Still at Home"); an ambitious but clearly insane assistant principal who keeps a live deadly spider on his desk ("Tarantula"); a Viet Nam vet who endures his harrowing memories of atrocities by covering himself with Vaseline and taking marathon ocean swims. Throughout, Jones's (mostly male) protagonists self-medicate by gulping Xanax, Tylenol, Advil, morphine pills, whiskey, beer, codeine. His world is a scary one, which he renders without judgment or sentiment. What lingers for the reader is the unsettling knowledge that the streets are populated with people who are somehow still alive, survivors still kicking because they don't care about anyone, not even themselves. When, in the final story, two mental patients seem to have found true love, we know better, making the poignancy of their affections all the more moving.