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The Pugilist at Rest

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,904 ratings  ·  150 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 June 7th 1993)
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4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,904 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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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 are 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 some
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
Vit Babenco
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There are many relevant allusions to art, philosophy and literature but whatever story Thom Jones writes, he explores three subjects:
The first subject is violence…
“Jensen moved in and started bouncing his fists off Baggit's head. Baggit rushed forward with his forehead and the two men collided heads. It sounded like two bowling balls clanking together, and now Jensen stalled. It seemed that Baggit was going to kick him, but then he walked by and went over to hold on to a bamboo post that support
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: orgasmic
Short stories about dying horses, Vietnam, alcohol, boxers, and masculinity in general, so y'know, uber-hetero and stuff. The writing is phenomenal. This is the kind of writing that that dickhead in your creative writing class WISHES he could write. They're all great, but really all you need are the first three Vietnam stories, which are mindblowingly amazing.
Laura Leaney
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
John Arfwedson
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-america
"Twentieth-century America is one of the most materially prosperous nations in history. But take a walk through an American prison, a nursing home, the slums where the homeless live in cardboard boxes, a cancer ward. Go to a Vietnam vets' meeting, or an A.A. meeting, or an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. How hollow and unreal a thing is life, how deceitful are its pleasures, what horrible aspects it possesses."

Perhaps more than any short story writer of his generation, Thom Jones wrote stories fo
Aug 29, 2009 rated it liked it
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 Pappas
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Ben Loory
Oct 07, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Sep 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Michael Jarvis
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
Thom Jones died last year. He put his whole large heart into these stories of war, boxing, drinking, & the tolls taken.

The fits are coming more and more. I’m loaded on Depakene, phenobarbital, Tegretol, Dilantin ― the whole shit load. A nurse from the V.A. bought a pair of Staffordshire terriers for me and trained them to watch me as I sleep, in case I have a fit and smother facedown in my bedding. What delightful companions these dogs are! One of them, Gloria, is especially intrepi
5 stars for the first three stories alone. Another favorite was "Unchain My Heart." "Silhouettes" was batshit crazy and a misleading title somehow. The rest range from good to zany. Great collection.
Tiny Pants
Apr 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Cornelius Browne
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Marc Gerstein
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
This review is only for the title story, “The Pugilist at Rest.” It’s a powerful story of aggressive, masculinity, taken to extreme and as far as the protagonist goes, it’s strikes me as pretty convincing through his experiences as a marine boot camp recruit, combat grunt, and later, marine boxer turned walking wounded. The only fly in the ointment for me was Jorgensen and how he got from where/what he was when we first meet him in boot camp to where/what he was later. Perhaps we can dispense wi ...more
Chris Miller
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Despite being in “Best American Short Stories” four years in a row in the 1990s, winning an O. Henry Award, and narrowly missing a second Jones’ career never really took off. This collection is uneven but worth owning. Jones covers a range of topics from boxing to being the houseguest of a more successful relative with ease. I recall discussing his works along with other, seemingly forgotten, authors William Humphrey, Norman Maclean, William Fox Price, and Ferrol Sams. I recommend the title stor ...more
Ryan Williams
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The work that helped clear the New Yorker's cobwebs. Like Denis Johnson with added testosterone, his tales of pugs, soldiers and addicts have the rare ability of making disintegration thoroughly addictive reading - perhaps best in a story aptly titled 'I Want to Live!'.

His later works impress, but they never quite equal this collection.
Jul 21, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
"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..."
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 29, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Apr 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 21, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
Feb 07, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
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Book Club: The Pugilist at Rest 1 3 Dec 11, 2015 08:32AM  

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Thom Jones (born January 26, 1945) was 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 train
“Human behavior, ninety-eight percent of it, is an abomination.” 9 likes
“A friend of mine in the ER told me that the animal consciousness is one of the here-and-now and that the human being can approximate it by drinking five martinis while soaking in a hot tub.” 3 likes
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