David Madden is a prolific writer who has worked in almost every literary genre. In addition to his novels, he has published numerous essays, short stories, and poems in a range of journals and magazines; short-story collections, The Shadow Knows (1970) and The New Orleans of Possibilities (1982); several plays, including both one-act and three-act versions of Cassandra Singing (1955); a number of book-length critical studies; as well as a film script for the television film of The Suicide’s Wife. Additionally, Madden has edited more than ten volumes on such diverse subjects as the proletarian and tough-guy writers of the 1930’s as well as on James Agee, Nathanael West, the short story, film and the commedia dell’arte, and the popular-culture explosion.
David Madden’s work has been unevenly recognized throughout his career. His early novels—The Beautiful Greed, a master’s thesis project, and “Hair of the Dog,” initially published in Adam but never reprinted as a book—received virtually no attention at the time of their publication. Although Harry T. Moore praised Cassandra Singing, Brothers in Confidence, and Bijou as “significant contributions to contemporary American fiction,” other critics have not viewed Madden’s work so favorably. While writer Walker Percy found Bijou “a triumphant, brutal story of growing up,” some reviewers faulted it for lack of unity and excessive nostalgia. Mixed responses also greeted Pleasure-Dome. One critic praised it as a “lyrical, quite wonderful novel”; another found it too “demanding and sometimes a bore.”
Madden’s short stories, however, have received more consistent recognition. Two appeared in The Best American Short Stories, for 1969 and 1971, respectively, and The Shadow Knows, Madden’s first collection of short fiction, was the National Arts Council selection for 1970. In 1969, he received a Rockefeller grant for fiction.
Madden’s achievement in the novel form rests in his exploration of the oral storytelling tradition and his evocation of east Tennessee and Kentucky landscapes and experiences, especially those of his youth. He often reworks autobiographical material—the major exception is The Suicide’s Wife—much of it found in earlier novels or stories. Characters and situations recur; earlier stories reappear as segments of a later novel. Though redundant and at times tedious for the reader engaged in surveying all of Madden’s novels, the retelling of this material in different forms allows the novelist to experiment with narrative voice and to explore in depth the relationship between the storyteller and the listener, a subject that has fascinated Madden since his youth.
Bach, Peggy. “The Theatrical Image.” The Southern Quarterly 33 (Winter/Spring, 1995): 215-226. In this article, Madden offers his views on the adaptation of works of southern novelists to the stage and screen.
Madden, David. Interview by Ruth Laney. Southern Review 11 (Winter, 1975): 167-180. This lengthy discussion with Madden during the second decade of his literary career explains much about his sources of inspiration, particularly his debt to folk tradition and popular culture.
Madden, David. “Let Me Tell You the Story: Transforming Oral Tradition.” Appalachian Journal 7 (1980): 210-229. Madden describes the influence of the southern tradition of storytelling on his own developing imagination during his childhood years and explains how oral anecdotes develop into the written works of a conscious artist.
Madden, David. “True Believers, Atheists, and Agnostics.” Introduction to American Dreams, American Nightmares, edited by Madden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970. Madden explains his analysis of American literature, which like American life he sees as strongly influenced by the ideal called the “American Dream.” The ideas expressed in this critical work are evident in Madden’s own fiction.
Morrow, Mark. “David Madden.” In Images of the Southern Writer. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985. Morrow’s one-page report of his visit with Madden at his Baton Rouge home includes Madden’s own comments on the influences which shaped his work, both events in his life and his historical and literary heroes.
Pinsker, Sanford. “The Mixed Chords of David Madden’s Cassandra Singing.” Critique 15 (1973): 15-26. In this interesting essay, Pinsker deals with the common perception of Madden as a brilliant writer who is, however, too undisciplined to produce the effects of which he is capable.
Richards, Jeffrey. “David Madden.” In Contemporary Poets, Dramatists, Essayists, and Novelists of the South. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. In this profile of Madden, Richards examines the recurring themes of the author and notes that his diversity has not always served him well in being accepted as a serious writer of fiction.
Schott, Webster. “Stories Within Stories.” The Washington Post Book World, January 6, 1980, 9. Schott finds that Pleasure-Dome suffers from Madden’s preoccupation with the subject of his own craft, which causes him to digress, seemingly to admire his own art. Despite the work’s defects in plotting, Schott finds it intellectually stimulating.