14 February 2010

Madison Jones, Forest of the Night (1960)

Paul Binding's comments in the post below on Madison Jones's first two novels continue to make sense, and although I found this far more readable than The Innocent, it's probably for the 'wrong' reasons.

Of The Innocent, a quotation from Robert Penn Warren is printed on the back flap: '[...] Madison Jones has written an intensely interesting story, and one that clearly declares his talent. It would be no surprise to find, in the fullness of time, the writer comfortably situated among the best of his generation.' The following sentence, not written by Penn Warren, states 'Forest of the Night begins to fulfil that prediction.'

There are similarities between these first two books: an honorable man comes back South full of idealistic ideas, becomes involved in a sexual relationship, and then a tangled web of violence. There is also a double in both books: in The Innocent it's Duncan and his resemblance to his indomitable horse, and in Forest of the Night it's Jonathan Cannon's remarkable resemblance to his lover Judith Gray's previous lover, the murderous Harpe.

In this novel, what really caught my attention was the humor of the courtroom scene in Grenville, Mississippi, where the drunken judge, on finishing his bottle of whiskey, hurls it out an open window: this scene, in which Jonathan is sentenced to death, has all the elements of farce, but farce just doesn't blend well with what reads like Old Testament wrath and ineluctable savage violence.

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