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Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Miss Jane (2016)

by Brad Watson

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2312572,554 (4.23)43
  1. 00
    Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: The books have a similar writing style. Also both books deal with themes of solitude and community.
  2. 00
    Someone by Alice McDermott (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: Both books bear compassionate witness to the lives of women with both familial and physical struggles. There are similar themes as well beautiful prose.

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» See also 43 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Beautifully written novel, following the quiet and necessarily limited- yet content- life of a rural Mississippi woman.
Born in 1915 to a farming family, Jane Chisholm has major physical defects which, while not dangerous, will never allow her to control her incontinence. The early efforts to fit in- the prolonged fasts before any social event; the frequent dashing from the room, dousings with perfume - give way to a gradual acceptance that solitude is to be her lot, and a calm, dignified life alone.
Recommended. ( )
  starbox | Dec 1, 2018 |
Brad Watson presents the story of Jane Chisolm, born in Mississippi in the early part of the 20th Century, in Miss Jane. Delivered at home by a country doctor, Jane comes into the world with a birth defect that complicates her bodily functions, and which the doctor believes would put her at perilous risk during a pregnancy, if such is even possible for her. If Jane is unique, this narrative treats her with reality, candor, and honor.

The book opens with Jane’s birth, the doctor’s concerns, and her superstitious parents’ doubts. During her childhood Jane only spends a few months going to the one-room school, but learns how to read in that short time. She learns her numbers watching her dad sell items and make change in his roadside store. But she learns to trust and love the avuncular doctor who takes an interest in her growth and development, in her life.

At length it is the doctor, Ed Thompson, who becomes her most important mentor and confidant. He researches possible cures for her physical abnormalities, but given the time period, the first half of the 20th Century, these will not pan out for Jane. The doctor visits frequently during her infancy and babyhood, and as she grows up, his visits become more those of a devoted and caring neighbor. When Jane travels socially to the doctor’s home, she encounters the peacocks with which the doctor has populated his property. These unique creatures give piercing calls, and keep insect numbers under control, but most importantly allow Jane and the doctor to consider some of life’s essential questions.

Dr. Thompson introduced peafowl to the area early in his practice, and they become part of the story as his and Jane’s years pass. She becomes familiar with them during her visits, and at length the doctor shares his thoughts about them. He sees them as magnificent and proud creatures, who make extravagant display at no slight cost to themselves. The very illogic of it is a wonderment to the doctor, and generates thoughts on creation, life, and the apparent lack of reason to it all. He explains to Jane that, like her, the birds do not have apparent outward genitalia, but must procreate through a small puckered opening called a cloaca. Thus does her communicate his opinion of Jane’s grace, beauty and uniqueness in the world. It is a beautiful moment in a book rife with them.

Mr. Watson has placed in Jane’s life the wonder and unsolvable riddle of life. Jane is no scholar, but her wisdom and ability shine through. In Jane’s dotage, the peafowl have colonized Jane’s property, and the reader is moved to admire Jane’s resilience, and the author’s wondrous though very plainspoken skill in showing it to the world. ( )
  LukeS | Aug 19, 2018 |
The title character of Brad Watson's novel Miss Jane is born in rural Mississippi with a urogenital malformation that causes incontinence and makes sexual intercourse impossible. In the early 1900s corrective surgery or even secure diapers are not available, so her condition forces her to drastically limit her range of experiences. Nonetheless, she finds sensual fulfillment in the natural world, and companionship in her friendship with the dedicated doctor who tries to help her.

This lyrical novel, which is based on the life of the author's great-aunt, is unremittingly sad, but it is interesting because it exposes a kind of solitude that isn't often described in books. Recommended. ( )
1 vote akblanchard | Nov 25, 2017 |
Review originally published on my blog, Musings of a Bookish Kitty:

Miss Jane by Brad Watson
W.W. Norton & Company, 2016
Fiction (Historical); 284 pgs

Brad Watson’s Miss Jane is the story of Jane Chisolm, a woman born with a genital birth defect. The novel, based loosely on the life of a relative of the author, takes the reader deep into rural Mississippi during the early twentieth century. Jane was born on her family’s farm to a mother whose heart was heavy from the loss of her young son and a distant but hardworking father.

Jane is isolated most of her life, attending only a semester of school. She is fairly precocious, however, picking up reading and math quickly on her own. She knows she will never led the normal expected life of a woman due to her deformity, but it does not stop her from feeling or loving or even living.

Given what I had heard about the book going in, I thought it would be more cheerful than it was. That isn’t to say it’s sad, but it is a book about life. And life, as most of us know, can be pretty messy and has its ups and downs. And so it is with Jane and her family. I appreciated the author’s depiction of each of the character’s, from Jane’s somber mother, her rebellious sister, and her distant father who finds comfort more and more in his apple brandy to the more thoughtful and curious Jane. This is as much a coming of age story as it is a character study. The reader sees Jane discovering who she is, struggling to accept her differences and eventually coming into her own. She knows loneliness and isolation. She knows hope and peace. Jane has a strong advocate in Dr. Thompson who befriends the child and does what he can to guide and protect her as she grows up.

I was particularly taken with Grace, Jane’s strong willed sister who wanted only to get out and away from her family. There was a part of me who could relate to her restlessness and feeling of being trapped. When she finally does get away, she proves she can weather just about any storm—her will to survive and stand on her own two feet strong.

Jane is a strong person herself, but in a different way than Grace. While Grace is all edges, Jane is smoother. Her strength is quieter and maybe not quite so obvious. She has a gentler approach to life, her curiosity and thoughtfulness carrying her through. It was impossible not to like Jane. She reminded me a bit of Melanie from The Girl With All the Gifts in that way. I couldn’t help but cheer for Jane and want for her all that life could offer. She makes the most of what she does have, which I think is a lesson many of us should take to heart.

The setting is very much a part of the story, the rural farm and woods surrounding it as well as the small town. The reader gets a real feel for what life was like during that time period, through the good times and then as the Depression sets in.

I found Miss Jane slow going, and I was easily distracted as I read. I am not entirely sure that is the book’s fault though given my state of mind and what was going on in my life at the time I read it. Had it not been for my Going Postal book club, I probably would have set it aside to try again at a later time. It says something though that I still came away from this novel appreciating and liking it overall. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | Nov 25, 2017 |
On a visit to Inkwood Books in Tampa Florida, the proprietor recommended a novel she thought I would like – based on my stack of purchases awaiting payment. She correctly introduced me to Miss Jane by Brad Watson. The novel has no conmen, no evildoers, but only farmers and sharecroppers desperately working the land to scrape out an existence for their families. True, they do have some individuals who drink a little too much, but they care for their families and their children. The story will warm your heart and make you want to bundle up for cold weather right alongside the Chisolms.

Brad Watson teaches at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. He has written two collections of stories and a novel, Heaven of Mercury, which was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award. His short stories have been published widely. Miss Jane tells the story of the Chisolm Family – Ida, his wife, Grace the eldest daughter, and Jane. A male baby had died soon after childbirth. Jane was born with a complicated birth defect. Back in 1915, nothing could be done for the unfortunate child. Today, her condition could be easily fixed by surgery. Watson describes the little girl, “She had been a spritely young girl, slim and a bit lank-haired but with a sweet face and good humor, but by now had grown taller and begun to take on a gaunt, dark-eyed beauty, and moved with a kind of natural grace, as a leak will fall gracefully from a tree in barely a breeze” (173). Dr. Thompson admired the Chisolms for their work-ethic and, after delivering Jane, he stayed in close touch in hopes of some sort of surgical miracle to correct her condition.

The lovely prose in this novel reminded me of Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Watson writes, “Leaving the child’s care to her older daughter had made it a little easier for Ida Chisolm to avoid her dark thoughts, though not entirely. When she had a little break, she sat on the front porch, dipped a bit of snuff – which she knew was smallish sinful but did it anyway, a soul was corrupt at birth and adding a little vice wouldn’t change the equation much – and spat into the bare dirt of the yard doing the best she could to empty her clamorous mind. Crows banked about the grove of the pine and hardwood by the cow pond and flew back up on fluff-cranked winds into the pecans near the barn, settling in their gnarly limbs like black fluttering shadows into the foliage of clouded thoughts she could not and did not bother to plumb. Late fall blackbirds swept in waves to the oaks at the yard’s edge, and their deafening, squawking, creaking calls, the cacophonous tuning of a mad avian symphony, drew the grief-born anger from her heart, into the air, and swept it away in long, almost soothing moments of something like peace. The occasional fluid mumuration of migrating starlings, a wondrous sight when she was a child, could evoke in her all over again in a strange sense of foreboding” (51-52). The story continues all the way to the disappearance of Grace, the death of Sylvester, Ida, and finally the last days of Jane Chisolm.

Some might view this last sentence as a “spoiler,” but this is one of those rare books, seeps into the mind of the reader, spreads warmth and sorrow, and ends on a satisfying note. Do not let that stop anyone from reading this novel. There are few things I enjoy more than a great independent bookstore and a proprietor who can read her customers. A trip to Florida is in my future, and after reading Miss Jane by Brad Watson, I will surely seek out Inkwood Books. 5 Stars.

--Chiron, 5/15/17 ( )
  rmckeown | May 27, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
“Miss Jane,” however, takes Watson’s writing to new heights...The novel is not only a lovely character study but also looks at the dignity of rural lives, medicine in the early 20th century, and the joys and heartaches of being a parent.

“Miss Jane” is an especially timely novel for right now, when so much of our turmoil is dependent on how we view the Other, whether it be because of race, sexuality, religion, or where someone was born. It’s also a novel that thrums with beauty, melancholy, and desire.
And he has shown, as few writers have, how wildness, in us and in our environment, can be deliverance. In his newest novel, “Miss Jane,” Watson’s facility with upending expectations and upsetting the lines between all sorts of categories — good and bad, normal and abnormal, pride and shame, love and hate — is at its keenest and applied most carefully....Yet the complexity and drama of Watson’s gorgeous work here is life’s as well: Sometimes physical realities expand us, sometimes trap; sometimes heroism lies in combating our helplessness, sometimes in accepting it. A writer of profound emotional depths, Watson does not lie to his reader, so neither does his Jane.
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In the wombs of the mothers, unborn embryos were growing, membranes and tissues folded and pleated themselves cleverly around each other, exploring without sorrow, without hesitation, the possibilities of topological space. - Lars Gustafsson, " Greatness Strikes Where It Pleases"
She'd had, like anyone, her love story. - Flaubert, "A Simple Heart"
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You would not think someone so afflicted would or could be cheerful, not prone to melancholy or the miseries.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393241734, Hardcover)

Astonishing prose brings to life a forgotten woman and a lost world in a strange and bittersweet Southern pastoral.

Since his award-winning debut collection of stories, Last Days of the Dog- Men, Brad Watson has been expanding the literary traditions of the South, in work as melancholy, witty, strange, and lovely as any in America. Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, he explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place―namely, sex and marriage.

From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the highly erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 16 Jan 2016 14:42:06 -0500)

"Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, he explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central "uses" for a woman in that time and place--namely, sex and marriage. From the country doctor who adopts Jane to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the highly erotic world of nature around her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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