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Miss Jane: A Novel Paperback – July 11, 2017
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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“Watson infuses the story with curiosity, uncertainty, and, not unlike Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, a certain wildness…The book plays on the tongue like an oyster―first salty, then cold―before slipping away to be consumed and digested.”
- Aditi Sriram, Washington Post
“A story worth telling even as it breaks your heart.”
- Amy Brady, Chicago Review of Books
“[Jane’s] fearless acceptance of what sets her apart is profoundly human, and her lifelong struggle to understand her place in the world reflects the intricate workings of our own mysterious hearts.”
- Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Watson has done something extraordinary here. This is not grit-lit...But it is Southern literature, nevertheless: fresh, new, without cliché. Watson may be our best.”
- Don Noble, Alabama Writers' Forum
“An exceptionally well written book. The prose was beautiful and the novel had a gentleness about it...I loved this book for its simplicity and would highly recommend it.”
- Meredith Kelly, Luxury Reading
“As Watson arcs through the story of Jane’s life in sensitive, beautifully precise prose, we are both absorbed and humbled.”
- Library Journal (starred)
“A well-written portrait of a person whose rich inner life outstrips the limits of her body.”
- Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Brad Watson teaches creative writing at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. His first collection, Last Days of the Dog-Men, won the Sue Kauffman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts & Letters; his first novel, The Heaven of Mercury, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and his Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Top customer reviews
Comparisons between the two novels should stop there. Miss Jane is not in any way derivative, and in fact Watson has drawn on the true life experiences of his own Great Aunt who suffered from the condition described in the novel. The result is a heartfelt exploration of loneliness, acceptance and happiness expertly guided by a taut prose that seems to own the language and experience of those times.
I don’t plan to reveal any more about Jane’s problem except to say that is a congenital anomaly of the genitals. I felt that Watson purposefully held back on the details, adding them bit by bit as the novel progressed, and this slow reveal of the diagnosis and its prognosis gave me some sense of the uncertainty, melancholy and mystery that Jane (and her real life model) must have felt in earlier times.
One of the great strengths of this novel is its look at early 20th century medicine. Watson accomplishes this through the character of a sage, country doctor who has spurned the big hospitals and East Coast opportunities of his medical school colleagues and has chosen to remain in the south, serving mostly the poor. In one of the novel’s opening and most interesting scenes, this Dr. Thompson comes home tired and a bit intoxicated to find his porch full of several of the county’s afflicted. This scene alone would make the book worth reading, especially the man gone blind after being struck in the head with a shovel by his wife (who accompanies him and assures the doctor her husband deserved it). These scenes are powerful and more than once they inspired comparisons to Steinbeck and to some extent Stegner.
While the cast of characters here is not large, all are strong and interesting and serve to make Watson’s points well. In addition to the bright and engaging Jane and the magnanimous Dr. Thompson, there is Jane’s father, the self made man become world weary who makes a legendary apple brandy, and her mother a melancholy and distant woman who never got over the death of her third child. Grace, her sister is a rebel looking for the quickest way off of the farm even at the young age of 9. When the depression hits, it exaggerates the flaws in each of these characters and Jane becomes in many ways the most stable part of their family.
In another great scene, Jane’s mother exasperated and saddened seeks out a local fortune teller. She asks the seer, “will my daughter ever be normal?” Her answer, “no, but she’ll be happy. Happier than you.” That prediction is a tidy summation of the novel itself. We spend so much time hurting for Jane, putting ourselves in her shoes or even worse, putting our children in her shoes and we want to fix her. And don’t get me wrong, Jane wants a solution to her problem too. But instead of yielding to the melancholy her family is certain she should feel and the reader feels she should feel, she gets on with the business of living.
Miss Jane is a contemplative novel that takes long and deliberate looks at the human condition including loneliness and sadness, love, self worth, adversity and happiness among a great many others. At one point, Jane’s father, late in his life and with the angst of a parent who knows he did not deliver his best for his child apologizes to Jane for his role in her condition. She calms him saying, “I’m fine. I know who I am, and I know how to live with that.” We’d all do well to arrive in that same place and Miss Jane is a beautifully written vehicle that leads the reader down the path Jane takes to get there.
Note: Free ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley
Sidenote: If you are into cover art, this is among the year’s best. It actually becomes more meaningful as the novel progresses, something I thought was unique.
Watson focuses on her strengths and how adversities shaped the woman she was to become. Its portrayal is imbued with all the qualities we would expect. We see human frailties, bigotry, lack of understanding, and varying degrees of compassion.
Watson paints a vivid picture of his characters and settings and the reader can see them come to life in this story. Dialogue flows easily. There's not really a plot here. Instead of action creating turning points in this novel, it's the natural aging of Miss Jane and her life that do so.
I spent several days thinking about Miss Jane: what her life must have been like; her family members; the children in school; how she was treated within her tiny community; her doctor and the limits of modern medicine. She was a remarkable character and one that Watson does an outstanding job of giving to us.
One can not help but extrapolate to gain a simbiotic understanding of what it must be like to realize and live today in a gender where one does not belong.
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My only regret is that I can't read again, as a first-time experience.Read more