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The Pugilist at Rest

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  2,098 ratings  ·  107 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 4th 1994 by Back Bay Books (first published 1993)
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Nine Stories by J.D. SalingerThe Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan PoeA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'ConnorDubliners by James JoyceThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
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423rd out of 1,859 books — 1,388 voters
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Great Short story collections by men
8th out of 49 books — 38 voters


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Community Reviews

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Jessica
I hate these fucking stars. I enjoyed this book a lot, but I just get so stressed-out trying to quantify that. These stories were about boxers (men and dogs), marines, sex, gender, and traumatic brain injury. What's not to like? Good question: the philosophy stuff. Sometimes all the philosophers and manliness tropes made me feel annoyed and bored, and this book reminded me of that tiresome guy on a motorcycle with a pack of Camel straights in his shirtsleeve, who's just trying way too painfully ...more
Eric
thom brown's books will grab you by the fucking throat and throttle you until you put the thing down. i'm constantly amazed at how powerful and visceral his stories are. and that's not their only appeal -- powerful scenes do not alone make great stories. these are stories that are not necessarily traditional in their structure, or in how the epiphanies unfold. but the end justifies the means.

i believe this is his greatest collection, but that's not to say that 'cold snap' or 'sonny liston...' a
...more
Laura Leaney
The Kirkus Review says this: "These 11 mostly hard-luck stories, with their mean and nutty existential heroes and their punch-drunk visions of hell, place Jones right among the literary heavyweights. In many of these gritty tales, first-timer Jones displays the peculiar genius of the autodidact--someone who contemplates the great ideas on his own, and tests them against the rawest of everyday experience." I think "mean and nutty" pretty much characterizes the protagonists of all these stories - ...more
Michael
Denis Johnson and Thom Jones share the same muse. This should be a relief, since having read Denis Johnson before this book made it seem that Johnson had his creative proboscus sniffing up creativity in some locked away subterranean hole. Two probosci, one hole. Which brings me to my other point; these stories present a decidedly masculine energy, one that is strangely tender. I have never seen the Kid Rock Scott Stapp prostitute orgy video, but I imagine some tender moments emerged between the ...more
John Arfwedson
Thom Jones comes at you like great boxers do when they've got you trapped on the ropes, twelfth round, thirty seconds left - full of exhausted fury, shadowy, unpredictable combinations, a swarming, relentless, impossible energy, desperate imagination, feints of all kinds, and the barking, savage voices of those who've felt more than once they were about to die...on the battlefield, in the ring, at three o'clock in the morning twenty years later, trying to figure out how the hell, exactly, am I g ...more
Daniel
This is a re-visitation of Jones for me, having read his work in various magazines and anthologies—back in the day, when I kept up—and remembering … well, frankly, not liking it. I re-visit because it has happened—again and again—that a writer whose work I remember not liking becomes, upon re-reading, a writer I enjoy and admire very much. (This has happened with Alice Munro, Henry James, Nicholson Baker, William Gibson, Carol Bly.) What I remember about not liking Jones had something to do with ...more
Ben Loory
i remember reading "a white horse" many years ago and thinking "oh my god, who is this, how is this happening, this is amazing, holy shit, someone wrote this???" and then getting to the end and turning the page and turning it back and just staring at it blankly. that's the end? what, did he die or something? and that's how i feel about every story in this book. (except the ones in the middle, which just aren't very good.) it's an amazing, thrilling, fantastic voice, but he just can't write an en ...more
Elaine
One of the best story collections, aside from Tim O'Brien's THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, about the Vietnam war (or war in general) that I've ever read. The title stories from both of these collections are powerful and haunting.
John Pappas
In the last story in this collection, one of Jones's characters speaks about a rare concept in boxing called the "third wind." After you catch your second wind, and become tired again, you might catch another moment of temporary vigor that could enable you to persevere and vanquish your opponent. But, here, however, as Jones plumbs the worlds of academia, boxing and war, we see several stories where the characters fight through to their third wind, but there is little vanquishing, just more and ...more
Tiny Pants
I recently came upon a cheap copy of this book at a discount bookstore in my area, and remembered liking it so decided to give it a go. Why not -- I mean, it's good for me to throw some literary fiction in there now and again, right? This reminded me, however, of why I always wind up reading literary short fiction. I don't know if I just had really different taste in college (very possible) or if I am actually remembering liking Cold Snap (slightly less possible, since I'm pretty sure I distinct ...more
Phil
An object lesson in cooking. The best of cooks, as I understand it, are able to take a few ingredients--the purest they can find--and distill them into a few straight-forward yet astounding dishes.

Jones ingredients are a few truths: war, boxing, loss, magic, potential, irrational instinct,etc. His treatment of them makes me feel that rare sort of simultaneous resonance and dissonance with the world (resonant dissonance? dissonant resonance?) only found in the best of books or works of art. It i
...more
Dan
I finally read this book after reading the phrase "contemporary masters of the short story like Carver and [Thom] Jones." Raymond Carver he ain't. But there are some great moments in this book, along with some stories of the sort you wrote the year before you got into grad school. He makes a theme of trying to reconcile the hyper-masculine tradition of guys who are putting on boxing wraps in their author photo with the intellectual tradition of Schopenhauer and close readings of the Doors. That' ...more
Cornelius Browne
Thom Jones has been a Marine, a boxer with over 150 fights, an advertising copywriter and a janitor, so it's no surprise that his first collection of stories is heavily autobiographical. The three Vietnam stories form the meat of the book - the title story is a classic, and the other two near-masterpieces. Sometimes, whenever Jones strays a little distance from his own life story, the results can be entertaining, but one-dimensional. He does, however, deliver a knockout blow in his story of a wo ...more
Chris Miller
The short stories in this collection seem to all center around two types of characters--the egocentric opportunist (Part II), or the tragically screwed good person (the rest of the collection). The author incorporates several recurring themes in his stories (many of which draw on his own experiences), namely boxing, the military, epilepsy, quirky nicknames, famous songs, and a love for literature/philosophy.

A testament to his good writing is that I found myself enjoying the stories even when th
...more
James
If I could isolate Part I as its own volume, I'd probably five-star it. But after the perfect-perfect "Black Lights" and its perfect-perfect ending, this nervy little thing and I just couldn't get back on the same wavelength. The voice of nearly every narrator outside of the T.J. surrogate (including his significantly altered appearance in "Mosquitoes") quickly grows tiring in one way or another, even when the satire is funny ("Wipeout") or Jones's ample references characteristically incisive an ...more
Josh
Tough-guy fiction.

Boxing and Vietnam and absent fathers and sex, in that order. Boxing in Vietnam. boxing to spite absent fathers. Absent fathers who were boxers. That kind of thing. If you like Tim O'Brien but think his books are too complex and meta-fictional and self-conscious, and lack boxing, then Thom Jones is your man.

The title story is really kind of magnificent, tho.
Henry
there were a few gems in here and i liked his style. the first story grabbed me, but i gradually lost interest when i noticed it was mostly a bunch of repeated metaphors about intellectual boxers presently or formerly in the marines. maybe he should just write a novel about himself instead of trying to make it seem like he's created a bunch of unique characters.
Jessica
"You're such a meany bear when you're hung over."

"As I moved out of the jungle again with my new pack, I sounded like a couple of skeletons fucking on a tin roof and had to stop and repack it."

-Break on Through

"Until you forgive yourself you cannot love anyone or do a drop of good anywhere or anyhow."

-"As of July 6..."
Jaynez
Short stories by a former boxer/janitor turned writer. Sort of manly yet sensitive and contemplative, sad and a bit cynical but not lacking a sense of the absurdity of life.
I like it. Brings to mind Tim O'Brien, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver.
I seem to be going through a pugilist fascination period.
Dave
Thom Jones is an excellent writer of short stories, this collection is especially good. The war stories are fantastic, the insight into the 'sweet science' of boxing is fascinating. Frank, violent, funny and oftentimes strangely beautiful, his voice as a writer is very strong and very compelling.
Joe
Re-read for the first time in a dozen years while on a plane. The Pugilist at Rest is a great collection of short stories written in a very informal conversational style. The stories involve either boxing, the Vietnam War, epilepsy, or philosophy and occasionally all at the same time.
Nate
In my opinion, the title short story "The Pugilist At Rest," is the only reason there is a short story collection. Usually the pleasure of a short story collection is finding those hidden treasures, but aside from "The Pugilist at Rest," it was the same story over and over again.
Tayne
A very great (and also very flawed, in the way that early Hemingway is 'flawed') book. Really wanted to give this 5, especially the earlier stories. A four and a half from me. I haven't read a book of short stories this good since Jesus' Son.
lbh.
thom jones was the janitor at a highschool near my hometown while i was growing up. that only became news when this book came out and then he wasn't the janitor anymore. lots of people told me they liked the work, but it didn't really touch me.
Kurt
The Vietnam stories at the start of this book are absolutely fantastic, but I think the book trails off a little after that. Still good, certainly entertaining - but the book as a whole has a bit of a top-heavy feel.
M
I don't what I love more: Thom Jones, the alcoholic janitor-turned-fiction writer, or the writing itself. These tales are lean and staggering -- it's a punch drunk tour of self-awareness and redemption.
Cam
It was fine. A bit repetitive, but I persevered. My favorites were the first and last stories, but my general complaint was that there was too much of the same and not enough variety.
J. Kent Messum
As I've said before, I have a short list of guys I admire and want to emulate when it comes to writing. Thom Jones is undoubtedly one of them.

My feelings on 'The Pugilist at Rest' are pretty much the same as how I felt about Thom's other short story collection 'Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine'. Jones is a craftsman, his words hard and unflinching, yet refined. His prose is unusually powerful. In short, they are the writings of a master. This collection reads like an act of desperation sometime
...more
Thomas
Apr 05, 2008 Thomas rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Thomas by: Dr. Sean E. Bops
Jones is to Denis Johnson as Steak-Umms are to filet mignon... sometimes you do want one but you'd never pretend it was the superior product.
bobherzog zog
If you like stories about Marines, boxing and assholes he's your guy.
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Thom Jones (born January 26, 1945) is an American writer, primarily of short stories.

Jones was raised in Aurora, Illinois, and attended the University of Hawaii, where he played catcher on the baseball team. He later attended the University of Washington, from which he graduated in 1970, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, from which he received an M.F.A. in 1973.
Jones traine
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