16 February 2010

Madison Jones, A Buried Land (1963)

In 1963, in The Habit of Being, which is a collection of letters written by Flannery O'Connor and edited by Sally Fitzgerald, O'Connor writes to Betty Hester: 'Right now I'm trying to get Madison Jones' [A Buried Land] read.* It is a shame about his books. They are excellent and fall like lead clear out of sight the minute they are published.'

This time I agree with O'Connor: A Buried Land is indeed excellent. Its genesis is a melding of two things: Jones's deep concern about the flooding of huge areas of Tennessee and northern Alabama by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and a story Jones heard about a young woman dying after an abortion.

The novel, once more, is about a good man corrupted by evil. Gradually unfolding events inevitably lead to Percy's undoing, and the novel almost reads like a thriller, or a kind of detective story, even a Greek tragedy. The cerebral young Percy has an alter ego, his physically-oriented friend Jesse, who tempts him to have sex with Cora, a simple girl originally from the mountains. She dies shortly after a botched abortion in Nashville, and Percy and Jesse bury her in a graveyard now evacuated before the TVA floods the area and buries the past. Unlike the rest of his family, who think the TVA are virtual robbers, Percy supports newness. However, despite his job as a lawyer several years later and his potential rosy prospects, his past actions will come back to torment and haunt him in the shape of Fowler, Cora's brutal and relentlessly vengeful brother, and the impoverished Jesse, who clings to a past Percy hopelessly wishes were forgotten.

The final paragraph on the front flap reads:

'Madison Jones turns the screws of suspense very tight in this powerful book. Youngblood is a modern Raskolnikov, whose struggle against himself is no less desperate than his conflict with his unnerving pursuer.'

A remarkable book.

*Betty Hester is known as 'A' in The Habit of Being, and was a Georgian who corresponded with O'Connor between 1955 and 1964. Their letters total almost 300.


Anonymous said...

Bravo. I'm glad that a quick search of this book on google led me to these backwoods (and only a few search results down from the top). I just read A Buried Land and it is still haunting me. Is that the original cover? It's so beautiful. The one I read was a plain, subdued green with a tiny picture. Madison Jones is a gem and I'm glad to have found him.
-Tom Baskerville Columbus, OH

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Hi Tom

Many thanks for the comment, and I'm pleased to hear that someone else is appreciating Madison Jones. That cover is from the first British edition of A Buried Land, although of course I can't say that the same cover was used for the (true) first American edition.

I hope you go on to reading more of his books, and I can recommend the Gretlund critical work mentioned in one of my posts.


Tony, Nottingham, England (at present, but working on leaving for France).

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I've just noticed that top left of this illustration it says "HIC JACET [HERE LIES] STEPHEN RUSS". Who he? Well, this seems to be a bit of a joke on the illustrator's part, as Stephen Russ is an artist who appears to have designed many dust jackets, and although "A Buried Land" and Russ don't seem to hit anything Googlewise, it's clear enough to me that that is the name of the illustrator!