Like those of his contemporary Denis Johnson, the stories are feral things, freed from polite convention by the sense of abandon that results from gazing too long at the abyss ... The imminence of death gives rise to the inimitable bawling, laughing, macabre narrations ... It’s impossible not to marvel at the urgency of these stories. Reviewers like to say that good writing feels alive, but living things are subject to the laws of decay, and the miracle of literature is that the truly great stuff has no half-life ... there are moments in Jones’s stories...where the writing seems capable of transcending the forces of destruction it so unforgettably evokes[.]
His mostly male characters...court risk, take toxic masculinity for granted and get into a lot of trouble. Sometimes they feel remorse; mostly they get into worse trouble ... What keeps drawing me into Jones’s stories is the precision of his language. His mastery of 60s and 70s American idiom doesn’t date the pieces. Rather, it locates them. In some ways, he reminds me of one of my favourite writers, Damon Runyon, also known for his idiosyncratic style, though he was more comical than Jones. Jones knew that the short story has to present a bang rather than build up to it, as the novel does ... Like Alice Munro, he was able to pour thoughts and feelings into a small mould and boil them down until they had the complexity of a novel but much more sharpness ... Jones believably explores what it feels like to be afflicted with strange or terminal conditions, as well as with anger and rage. These stories put you off, draw you in, show you states of mind that you may never have experienced. They are intensely lively and down to earth; adventurous, often harsh but subtly self-effacing; both a generational portrait and a self-portrait of one of the strangest writers of our times.
Night Train: New and Selected Stories is a most welcome chance to celebrate Jones’ legacy. It’s a greatest-hits collection, featuring the best of his three books. All of Jones’ obsessions—Vietnam, drugs, boxing, fractured families, manual labor, dogs, death—are gathered under one roof in a glorious cacophony, elbowing each other and demanding to be heard. His authorial voice, and the voice he gave to his characters, was there from the start, in the dead-run opening of The Pugilist at Rest, the story that went from the slush pile at The New Yorker to an O.