Welcome back to the world of boot camp, boxing gyms, psych wards and pharmaceutical highs. Once again, Thom Jones seems less to write fiction than to allow his characters to pour their stories directly into the reader's ear. Here the cast includes some of the usual suspects--jittery fighters, Marines, Vietnam vets--as well as some new but equally quirky voices, from a nebbishy vice principal to a 92-year-old woman. First seen in Jones's debut collection, The Pugilist at Rest
, the crack Marine recon team Break On Thru makes several more sorties--most notably in "Fields of Purple Forever," in which the civilian Sergeant Ondine takes up swimming much the same way Odysseus, say, took up sailing: "Ondine a night swimmer and he all over the night. Captain of the night. I swim in the fields of purple. Nothing and no one can harm me forever."
"Tarantula" chronicles the rise and fall of John Harold Hammermeister, vice principal of W.E.B. Du Bois High School, where the students fail to be impressed by his caged spider and the frustrated janitors prove his undoing. "My Heroic Mythic Journey" follows the downward career arc of its boxer protagonist, who becomes featherweight champion of the world only to fall for a "bleach-bottle blond with a cheating heart" and a loaded .38. Most winning of all is the elderly narrator of "Daddy's Girl," who manages to preserve her faith even with two dead husbands, countless family tragedies and eyelids growing up into her eyes: "You have to believe like a little child. Believe it because it's impossible." Only the overlong concluding story, "You Cheated, You Lied," disappoints; as chaotic as the main characters' mood swings, it follows two crazy teenagers in love and off their medication. But this tale is an exception in an otherwise noteworthy collection. Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine only confirms Jones's place as one of the most original American writers at work today. --Mary Park
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.