Madison Jones Jones, Madison - Essay

Jones, Madison

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jones, Madison 1925–

Jones is an American novelist and short story writer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14.)

Guilt and retribution as fictional themes continue to haunt Mr. Jones [in An Exile] as he studies the disintegration of blameless character in a middle-aged man when he is abruptly confronted with a temptation he finds himself powerless to resist. Principal actors in the ensuing drama are few and sharply drawn; action is swiftly progressive; and suspense is once again, as in the author's previous novels, handled with incomparable adroitness. Not many present-day writers are able to evoke an atmosphere of terror so overwhelming, nor to conjure so artfully a sense of anxiety and dread. Impact is here heightened by the very brevity of the narrative. Few readers will be able or disposed to forget this simple tale of plain folk caught up by irresistible forces and hurled to an inescapable doom.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Winter, 1968), p. viii.

We cannot but feel indignant … when a towering achievement like [A Cry of Absence] is saluted only by the odd and usually obscure reviewer. Though unqualified to do it justice, I feel obliged in this situation to attempt at least to call attention to its true stature. For A Cry of Absence is an authentic, pure, and deeply moving tragedy. Sophocles, Racine, Ibsen; in the novel, Flaubert, Hardy, Faulkner—these are the company it keeps and the comparisons it invites. In its dignity, integrity, and somber power it is a reproach to many of us for frivolity: for liking, for instance, such novels as Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins, so attractive and funny and entertaining, but finally so disappointing because incoherent and full of loose ends—things implausible or unexplained or meaningless. A Cry has, in contrast, the order and economy of the greatest art: there is no detail that is not essential, significant both in itself and in relation to the work as a whole….

Jones's novel is a triumph of tact as well as integrity; there are no wrong notes, and every detail is fully dramatized and completely functional. Each one is necessary to the central action at the same time that it reveals the nature of the characters; each is historically typical, and each also functions on a symbolic or mythical level.

This spareness and economy of means make the reader think of Greek tragedy, as does the action itself, as austere, powerful, and inexorable as any in Greek drama, and as evocative of both pity and terror. The book is full of suspense, too, in exactly the Greek way: not so much as to what will happen, since the pattern of external events is foreseen very soon, but as to how and why it will happen in terms of character….

This novel differs from many recent ones in that its fictional world is emphatically a moral one. And it is satisfying—aesthetically, intellectually, and morally—because it is complete and coherent…. It is, in my opinion, a major work of art.

Monroe K. Spears, "A New Classic," in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1972 by The University of the South), Winter, 1972, pp. 168-72.

A Cry of Absence [is Madison Jones'] fifth novel and one of the best to come out of the South in recent years. It is the story of a vaguely aristocratic woman who lives in a small town and discovers that one of her two sons is guilty of the brutal murder of a black civil-rights activist. That is good, solid, "Southern" material, but there is nothing imitative or anachronistic about the novel. Jones movingly portrays the gradual destruction of the curtain of illusions with which the woman has surrounded herself, the desperation with which she clings to "family" against the proof of its corruption. In A Cry of Absence we see the white South in its last sad flailings against the inevitable. Place, community, and history all figure in the novel, but in the changed situation of a South facing up to its moral obligations.

Jonathan Yardley, in Partisan Review (copyright © 1973 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Vol. XL, No. 2 (Spring, 1973), pp. 291-92.