“Cold Snap” by Thom Jones

“Cold Snap”
Thom Jones
from The Best American Short Stories – 1994

Thom Jones has a stream-of-consciousness writing style in “Cold Snap,” in which Richard is a manic-depressive doctor who has lost his medical license for substance abuse and has recently been fired from his job with Global Aid in Africa.  Unstable, depressed and compulsive, Richard rambles through a narration of a particular day during a cold snap near Seattle.

Richard is up and down in the same sentence.  He is obsessed with the thought of his pipes freezing.  He runs through the house turning on faucets, worries about the antifreeze in his car, rushes out to a store to by an antifreeze tester and slices his thumb trying to open it.  A trip to the emergency room is just another mini-chapter in this day.

During this time we learn about his sister Susan who is in an institution for shooting herself in the head.  He visits her, takes her out, and brings her home with him for an overnight stay.  Richard’s protective nature is sweet, but he is alarmingly unstable and it seems almost certain they are headed for a disastrous ending.

Despite Richard’s hopeless feelings and uncontrollable mood swings, the story ends with a positive feeling, a surprise I did not expect.  Here’s another example of great short fiction.  “Cold Snap” is a bit of a roller coaster, with strong emotions compressed into just a few pages.  Definitely worth your time!

Jones wrote “Cold Snap” after a phone conversation with a friend, who usually called him to complain about how hot it was.  The day Jones wrote this story was the only day his friend called to complain about how cold it was.  Coincidentally, Jones and his friend had both cut their thumbs that day.  As soon as they finished talking, Jones sat down and wrote this story.  “Cold Snap” first appeared in The New Yorker in 1994.

Cold Snap - New Yorker cover

Thom Jones is an American writer of short stories.  His principal works are The Pugilist at Rest – Stories (1993), Cold Snap – Stories (1995), and Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine – Stories (1999).

Cold Snap Thom Jones pic
Thom Jones hubpages.com

Following is a short biography from eNotes.com,

Biographical Information

Jones was born on January 26, 1945, in Aurora, Illinois. His father was a professional fighter, which seems to have had a large influence on Jones’s life. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University in Washington in 1970 and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1973. Prior to attending the University of Washington, Jones married Sally Williams, to whom he is still married. He also served in the Marine Corps, where he had an amateur career as a boxer. However, his boxing and military career ended when he received a brain injury in the ring, which resulted in his suffering from epilepsy. Although Jones received his M.F.A. in 1973, he didn’t work steadily as a writer for quite some time; instead, he worked as a janitor in a school where his wife was the librarian. The Pugilist at Rest (1993), although his first book, immediately gained him a reputation as an excellent writer. He has since published two more collections of short stories and has taught at the program that helped produce him, the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.”

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