Thom Jones made his literary debut in The New Yorker in 1991. Within six months his stories appeared in Harper's, Esquire, Mirabella, Story, Buzz, and in The New Yorker twice more. "The Pugilist at Rest" - the title story from this stunning collection - took first place in Prize Stories 1993: The O. Henry Awards and was selected for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 1992. He is a writer of astonishing talent. Jones's stories - whether set in the combat zones of Vietnam or the brittle social and intellectual milieu of an elite New England college, whether recounting the poignant last battles of an alcoholic ex-fighter or the hallucinatory visions of an American wandering lost in Bombay in the aftermath of an epileptic fugue - are fueled by an almost brutal vision of the human condition, in a world without mercy or redemption. Physically battered, soul-sick, and morally exhausted, Jones's characters are yet unable to concede defeat: his stories are infused with the improbable grace of the spirit that ought to collapse, but cannot. For in these extraordinary pieces of fiction, it is not goodness that finally redeems us, but the heart's illogical resilience, and the ennobling tenacity with which we cling to each other and to our lives. The publication of The Pugilist at Rest is a major literary event, heralding the arrival of an electrifying new voice in American fiction, and a writer of magnificent depth and range. With these eleven stories, Thom Jones takes his place among the ranks of this country's most important authors.
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.