The Pugilist at Rest

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

These stories have been hailed as “instant classics” of the contemporary short story. And this is true: half of the stories that make up THE PUGILIST AT REST resonate with a power and a vision of the world that one rarely finds in a first book.

The title of the collection is ironic, for if one thing is certain, it is this: the pugilists in this book are rarely, if ever, at rest. Instead, they are constantly fighting not only to survive, but to live: to make sense out of the chaos that has become an everyday way of life.

Jones’s vision has been called—it has been criticized as— pessimistic. In fact, Jones is a realist, writing about a world too often ignored: a place inhabited by those who live out their catatonic lives sitting off in some corner of a room in a budget-cut psych ward, drooling like dogs.

There are weak spots to be found in this debut. Stories such as “Wipeout” and “Mosquitoes”—as well as other stories wherein Jones branches off into settings other than the duel battlefields of the boxing ring and Vietnam—lack the punch-to-the-gut buzz one comes to expect from a writer who has a prose style as powerful as Thom Jones. But all in all, the stories found in part 1—“The Pugilist at Rest,” “Break on Through” and “Black Lights”—as well as the two pieces that close out the collection—“A White Horse” and “Rocket Man”—stand as examples of what a short story can achieve: moments that may potentially change the reader’s perception of the world. Thom Jones has peeled back his skin, giving those willing to risk a look a firsthand glance into a heart that keeps beating, a breath at a time, even though there are voices telling it to stop.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. July 25, 1993, XIV, p.6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. August 1, 1993, p.2.

The Nation. CCLVII, September 6, 1993, p.254.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, June 13, 1993, p.7.

Newsweek. CXXI, June 21, 1993, p.64.

Ploughshares. XIX, Fall, 1993, p.241.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, April 12, 1993, p.47.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction. XIII, Fall, 1993, p.224.

Time. CXLI, June 28, 1993, p.72.

The Washington Post. June 29, 1993, p. D4.