BOOKS: PRIMAL MATTER

NO MANNERS OR MAWKISHNESS IN THOM JONES' JOLTING STORIES

Thom Jones' justly praised first book was a collection of strong, hard-edged short stories called The Pugilist at Rest. The title was descriptive. Most of the characters were onetime boxers or soldiers, and there was a quality of rest -- of fate and damage accepted -- to the predicaments they described. The stories in the author's second collection, Cold Snap (Little, Brown; 240 pages; $19.95), are at least as powerful and as gritty with existential courage. But they are also rowdier, messier with life.

The author's line of sight has shifted, maybe broadened. A theme that recurs is of white medics...

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