Picks and Pans Review: The Pugilist at Rest

updated 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/09/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Thorn Jones

In action-packed, high-octane prose, in a rollicking, incorrigible voice, Jones tells tall tales about Vietnam skirmishes, asylum stays, epileptic seizures, boxing bouts and sexual conquests. He exaggerates with a willful, zany abandon, racheting up the outrageousness until realism reaches silly heights and topples over. Yet the author's put-ons and send-ups are so infused with vivid description that readers can't help but suspend disbelief. In the title story of this collection, a hospitalized epileptic relates, "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 face down in my bedding." The narrator himself sums up, "Isn't this incredible?"

Yes, incredible. And darkly humorous. Jones's irrepressible imaginings come equipped with hints that they should not be taken too seriously. As Vietnam's horrors erupt in "Break on Through" and "The Black Lights," Jones exuberantly presents "the dull bap, bap, bap of AK-47 fire" and savors enough stomach-turning details to remind any sensible reader of the sixth-grade recess yard. Sex is a happy condoms-be-damned frenzy.

Read Thom Jones! See him drop imagery like water balloons from Schopenhauer altitudes! Hold on as he zooms into metaphorical overdrive with his shameless, trashy-novel, V-12 prose! But for all the devilish gleam, one story in the bunch is a bona fide heart-wringer. Be prepared, upon putting down "I Want to Live," to phone your mother in her retirement home to tell her you love her. (Little, Brown, $18.95)

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