This week’s Recommended Read is a one-two punch: the first an actual punch and the second a 926-page icepick to the back of the neck.
First we have Thom Jones’ 1993 volume The Pugilist at Rest, a collection of eleven stories that explore boxing, war, and what it means to be a man in the hypermasculine post fifties world (which Jones manages to achieve even though one of his stories is told from within the perspective of a woman). This collection, which launched Thom Jones into the fiction stratosphere, made its mark for two iconic stories, “I Want to Live!” and the title piece “The Pugilist at Rest,” which won him first place in Prize Stories 1993. While each piece is strong in its own way, the most remarkable is “Mosquitos,” which was first published in Story and chronicles a weekend in the life of a self-loathing ER doctor who drives a V-12 Jaguar and can’t seem to handle his relationship with his Ph.D., Volvo-driving brother or his hypersexuality.
“I knew that either Clendon would become so pissed that he would leave that nasty-ass bitch or he would weasel under and suffer worse than that alienated hero in the Russian novel Crime and Punishment, Clendon’s favorite character of all time. I believe that dude’s name is Raskolnikov.”
Jones’ stories are both literary and non-literary, breaking rules and remaining unapologetically brutal. His war scenes are hard to read, his non-war scenes are entertaining and saddening, and his prose is sharp. Check it out.
Our second gem comes from the mind of Haruki Murakami (yes, again; but anybody that lug this tome around for a few days deserves a handshake or a hug from somebody) and is titled 1Q84. This is the latest from the visionary Japanese author who brought us The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore and takes us through the meanderings of a fledgling novelist/cram school math teacher and a twentysomething former religious fundamentalist assassin who kills douchebags with a needle to the back of the neck as the two of them pass through alternate realities centered around Japan in 1984. The novel, which makes its allusion to George Orwell’s masterpiece loud and clear, again showcases Murakami’s talent in the realm of magical realism. Murakami manages to make the weird seem no so weird, and even though it takes over nine hundred pages to do so, threads together detective story, bildungsroman, love story, and science fiction. It’s meticulous, ambitious, and a Spartan example of just where words can take us as readers and writers.
Whether you’re looking for an intense, tight story collection or a journey into the unknown that is all-too-familiar, you won’t go wrong with either of these well-crafted works.