Text by Michael Mullen, Professor of English, Vincennes (IN) University
Though Jones admitted he felt more comfortable with the novel, both The Pistol and Jones's only collection of short stories, The Ice-Cream Headache and Other Stories, indicate that he was quite able to work successfully within the limits of shorter forms. That he didn't write more stories was partly because he was usually working on a novel. There was also the problem of subject matter. In the introduction to The Ice-Cream Headache, Jones explained:
One simply can't write anything outspoken about sexuality and get it published in any magazine printing today. This automatically rules out a whole raft of subjects. If sexuality and an interest in it is one of your main themes, as it is with me, this takes away from what you can write a very large chunk of what you'd like to write. You find yourself precensoring from your material much of what you'd like to write according to what you know you can get printed, or else you just lay the idea away and never do it at all. I can do better with novels.
Many reviewers were surprised by Jones's skill with the short story. Though the book was published in 1968, most of the stories were written before 1960. Sara Blackburn, reviewing the collection for The Nation, found the stories, most of which deal with either the Army or with childhood in the Midwest, "anything but dated," and said, "the variety of experiences they convey results not only in very moving fiction but, cumulatively, in compact social history of what it was like for Mr. Jones's generation to grow up, to war, to marry, and, generally, to become people in America."
John Thompson was right when he wrote in his review in The New York Times Book Review that "a book of stories is less distractingly a public event than the launching of one of his big novels," but he was wrong in assuming that this was an advantage. With The Ice-Cream Headache Jones proved he could write well-crafted stories, that he could write convincingly about something besides war, and that his work did not rely on four-letter words and graphic descriptions of sex for its impact and appeal. He produced an impressive collection of stories, many of which complemented his novels, but the book was largely ignored. That is unfortunate, for if it had done better, some Jones supporters believe, perhaps Jones would have written more stories.