Despite some early success with the short story, Madison Jones’s major literary accomplishments are found in his novels, which range from the spare novella form of An Exile to the rich, nightmarish extravagance of Forest of the Night, from the contemporary social criticism of A Buried Land and A Cry of Absence to the timeless allegory of sin and redemption in Passage Through Gehenna. Whatever the form he employs, Jones is noted for the care with which he constructs his works; he is a stylist of precision and balance. Conservative in the sense that his values are rooted in the traditional, Jones has never become an apologist for the land and people of the American South, which he has chosen as his subject. He refuses to sentimentalize or romanticize. Instead, a sharp intelligence and undeviating morality motivate each work. Jones’s novels are often too emotionally demanding to be “entertaining” in the popular sense of the word, and he has never achieved wide commercial success, although a motion-picture adaptation of An Exile was released in 1970; the film, directed by John Frankenheimer and titled I Walk the Line, stars Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld.
Jones has long encouraged the development of southern writers, both through his own example and through his teaching as writer-in-residence at Auburn University. He believes in the need for cultural and intellectual independence for the South. In his concerns and goals, Jones remains a part of that middle generation of twentieth century southern writers who carry the rich and often troubling heritage of the traditional past into the changing and sometimes ambivalent society of today.