Monday, February 20, 2017

Miss Jane

Miss Jane by Brad Watson (2016)

In Mississippi in 1915, Jane Chisolm was born with a genital abnormality that left her incontinent and unable to do what a woman was meant to do: get married and have children. She grows up knowing that she is different, her parents keeping her out of school and, therefore, away from other children. Jane doesn't make friends with other kids her own age, though she maintains a close relationship with the doctor who delivered her and continues to monitor medical developments in hopes of corrective surgery for her one day. Spanning Jane's entire life, this novel illustrates all the ways big and small that an accident of birth can affect someone.

Jane's father is a decent guy, but drinks too much of his own home brew. Her mother is unhappy and cold, and her older sister, Grace, just wants to get away from them all and live her own life in town. Jane is not surrounded by a warm, loving family but Dr. Thompson fulfills the role of a caring adult who does as much for her upbringing as any parent. He is so thoughtful and caring and open-minded, carefully choosing his words when giving her advice or breaking bad news to her. It was clear that he cared a lot for her and wanted her to live the best possible life. I loved Dr. Thompson.

Jane mostly shied away from getting to know anyone outside of her family. Her foray into the local school was short-lived due to the inconveniences and embarrassment of her incontinence. She wouldn't eat or drink anything until lunchtime, and then just a tiny bit to hold her over until dinner. She became very thin and still anxious about having an accident at school. Ultimately, it just wasn't worth it. She did make a friend once, a boy from a neighboring farm, but it was clear their feelings went beyond friendship and that relationship had to be nipped in the bud.

Mostly, Jane enjoyed living on her family's farm, helping out as much as she could while observing the beauty and harshness of the natural world all around her. She may have lacked eroticism in her own life, but she saw it everywhere else. Watson's descriptions of farm life and the natural world are worth the price of the book alone (though, admittedly, I got it for free from the library.) The lively, complex natural world comes alive beautifully in these pages and added vibrancy to a life that otherwise seemed a bit limited. I couldn't feel bad for Jane living in such a lush, wonderful world.

This novel is driven by character, not plot, and getting to know Jane throughout her life was a pleasure. She suffered hardships and loss, but she also experienced much that was pleasant and satisfying, and she was quite content with who she was. Miss Jane was a beautiful and satisfying reading experience, and one I highly recommend.

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