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"Sonny Liston Was A Friend of Mine"

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What challenges face the tough guy at the millennium? Same old, same old. Thom Jones's tired men are boxers and grunts, mentally unstable and often unemployed, trying to make their amphetamine-addled bodies go the extra mile. In the collection Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine (Little, Brown; $23), Jones's physical descriptions are inspired -- every jungle maneuver or Round One feint seems to be enacted before you. Movement and danger inspire him. Physical descriptions don't -- they're flat and awkward, as if someone had said, Here's where you gotta describe the girl. The title story is best: Kid Dynamite's bullheaded desire to box his way out of real life plays as poignant, not posturing. He runs eight miles each morning in lead boots, pausing only to move boxes and eat pumpkin pie at his grandmother's store. That's dedication.


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