Well, now I’m all out of Thom Jones books. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine is the last of Jones’s three published works. He’s got a couple loose stories floating around that I intend to track down, but as far as traditionally published books go, I am now a Thom Jones completist, which makes me more than a little sad.
Sonny Liston is certainly on par with his debut, The Pugilist at Rest. Oddly, the titular story Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine is far and away the weakest and most disappointing story in the lot, falling back on heavily-treed banalities in spite of it’s sporadic brilliance. The collection improves mightily right after, return to familiar Jones characters from The Pugilist. We’re back in the world of Vietnam, boxing and frontal lobe epilepsy, sometimes with new characters, sometimes with old. The stories are sometimes hilarious but never stray far from brutality.
Jones’s three story collections are a vast trilogy of short fiction, each sharing characters and themes while still retaining a smaller, individual vision. I plan on rereading all three books and diagraming out the interconnecting stories, drawing solid lines that connect the disparate narratives sharing characters, dotted ones for those connections that; however likely, remain uncertain due to the unreliability of a narrator or the form of that particular narrative. Read these books. The “traditional” form of the short story gets short shrift, but the kind of interweaving storytelling Jones accomplishes in these three books would be impossible in any other medium.
Recommendation: Buy them all, read in the order of publication.