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Thom Jones' second short story collection (Little, Brown; 240 pages; $19.95) is as strong and hard-edged as his justly praised "The Pugilist at Rest." But the characters in "Cold Snap" are rowdier than "Pugilist's" fatalistic soldiers. Heroism for these characters consists of crumbling into alcoholism, drugs and depression as slowly and with as much grace as possible. The author, says TIME critic John Skow, has shifted and broadened his line of sight to produce an astonishing, jolting collection in which each story is "a chunk of primal matter, painful to hold, thrown up from volcanic depths."