Books: Faultless to a Fault

A CRY OF ABSENCE by Madison Jones. 280 pages. Crown. $5.95.

The Southern novel, like the Chekhovian play, has become almost ritualistic. Through nobody's fault, the tradition now comprises a pattern of characters, symbols and plots so fixed and familiar that only a genius or a black militant novelist can escape literary predestination. Madison Jones is neither, though he is a very good writer with all sorts of credentials from the Southern establishment, including a Sewanee Review fellowship in fiction and the unreserved recommendations of James Dickey ("profound"), Allen Tate ("the Thomas Hardy...

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