Courtesy photoIf Vietnam, hospital asylums, punch-drunk boxers, retrograde amnesia and a little philosophy of the pessimist variety peaks your interest, then Thom Jones’ The Pugilist at Rest collection should be right up your alley.
The retired Force Reconnaissance Marine, unfortunately, was diagnosed with epilepsy believed to have been brought on as a result of the time he spent as an amateur boxer.
However, in 1993, Jones published the best batch of short stories I have ever read.
It’s not a dark comedy, it’s not philosophical, it’s not a drama and it’s not unforgiving. It’s a combination of all of the above, amplified in the most interesting way possible and delivered in about as easy a read as any Marine could hope for. What’s impressive isn’t just the story, but the way Jones manages to never go stale.
The protagonists in Jones’ stories all seem to be fighting something, often their own minds. And, true to form, there’s something cerebral about all of them. The story “Break On Through” takes what Morrison was talking about and manages to do exactly that. It’s about redemption in the fields of Vietnam. Told through the eyes of the protagonist, you read about certain Marines you feel you’ve already met. When they speak, it isn’t flowered up for posterity’s sake. It’s real. As real as the thought process that Jones represents.
“No one said, don’t let it be ‘this tour,’ or ‘this month,’ or ‘this week’; they said, don’t let it be ‘this time.’”
A down-to-earth attitude and references to popular culture makes The Pugilist at Rest a work of art that any homegrown American can identify with. It’s leisure reading for those who don’t believe such a thing exists. If Hemmingway bored you like he did me, Jones won’t. If you liked the way Fight Club ended, you’ll like Jones.