Cold Snap Essay - Critical Essays

Cold Snap

It is not often that new authors create the stir with a collection of short stories that Thom Jones did in 1993 with THE PUGILIST AT REST. The ten works in this new collection carry on in the same hyped-up mode as Jones’s earlier pieces, featuring characters on the edge of reality who seemingly survive on pure manic, drug-driven energy.

Many of Jones’s stories have a sort of inspired magic about them, as if derived from a manic monologue which he delivers and transcribes in a frenzy. His most characteristic persona is Ad Magic, who was last seen in India in THE PUGILIST AT REST and who pops up in Africa in the story “Quicksand” in COLD SNAP. Driven by illness, pain, and drugs, Ad Magic can lapse into a trancelike state and create advertising copy or charitable fund requests that readers cannot resist.

“Way Down Deep in the Jungle,” included in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES: 1995, which also takes place in Africa, involves a typical Jones character for whom “absurdity was a very big part of his life,” even as he tries to attain a kind of nobility in spite of it. In “Cold Snap,” the central character has been sent home from Africa after a bout with malaria and a “manic episode.” His younger sister, Susan, a schizophrenic, provides him with his best hope for finding some relief from his own episodes of depression.

When readers enter the hallucinatory world of many of Thom Jones’s stories, they must put normality aside and allow themselves to listen, in relative safety, to the out-of-control voices of characters spaced out, speeded up, and thus somehow in touch with a strange magic that transcends everyday reality.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCI, June 1, 1995, p. 1728.

Boston Globe. June 4, 1995, p. 74.

Commonweal. CXXII, October 6, 1995, p. 24.

Library Journal. CXX, May 1, 1995, p. 134.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 6, 1995, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. C, June 4, 1995, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, May 15, 1995, p. 56.

San Francisco Chronicle. June 4, 1995, p. REV3.

San Francisco Review of Books. XX, July, 1995, p. 7.

Time. CXLV, June 19, 1995, p. 60.