Winner and still champion Jones takes this one on points. His second collection (The Pugilist at Rest, 1993) of rock-hard stories goes the distance, surviving on adrenaline, killer instinct, and artistry. Most of these ten ready-to-rumble stories have appeared in major magazines (The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire), so some of the edges have been smoothed, but Jones's relentlessly existential protagonists are as manic as ever: The jittery hustlers, gonzo hopheads, and Dex-mad chatterers engage us viscerally, as do the sad zombies who drool through Haldol and other psychotropic drugs. Jones is a walking physician's desk manual, frequently indulging his medical obsessions. A number of pieces concern doctors, many of them burned out by prolonged exposure to Third World horror. In the title story, ``a bleak post-African depression'' engulfs a doctor back in the States, where he's lost his license to practice and where his self-lobotomized sister wastes away in an institution. Like many of Jones's hypersensitive protagonists, this one uses the weather as a barometer of his internal mood swings; relief comes from a quick game of Russian roulette. ``Pain and trouble'' dog the weary old-timer of ``Superman, My Son,'' whose 40-ish son has just come out of a manic episode. In Africa, a copywriter--legendary for his ability to overcome ``donor weariness''--sets off on a pill- popping jag (``Quicksand''), while a doctor from New Zealand drowns his cynicism in booze (``Way Down Deep in the Jungle''). The suicidal duet of ``I Need a Man to Love Me'' probes ``the eternal vortex of hell'' where death is relief from a life spent in a wheelchair or as a probable lifer in jail. The gym rats, disgruntled marines, and aging pickpockets who people Jones's stories are all desperate for moments of solace, if not a glimmer of transcendence. Raw, powerful, and pulpy: an intense volume that's like staring at a gaping wound, something making it so you can't--or don't want to--look away.