Brad Watson delivers delightful descriptions that will bring great joy to readers of his new book, Miss Jane. The novel has been nominated for the National Book Award, so you will not be alone in wanting extra time to re-read parts, often entire paragraphs, to savor the author’s stunning rhythm and language.
Set in early twentieth century Mississippi, the story is based on Watson’s Great Aunt, Miss Jane Chisholm, who was born with such deforming defects to her genitalia that she will never be able to enjoy a sexual relationship with a loving partner. Her deformity brings enormous shame, but surprisingly it inspires warmth and kindness on the part of the local doctor. Dr. Thompson cares not only for Jane’s bodily ills, but also for her emotional well-being as he guides her persistent inquiries into the world around her.
In spite of dire poverty—with tenant and sharecropping families barely surviving on the land—Jane learns about life from the surrounding plants and animals. It is in these descriptions that Watson shows us his best form: his language can be blunt, even harsh, yet when writing about the natural world and humanity, it turns lyrical.
Somehow, too, among the population—even as those close to Jane struggle with the bleakness of their lives, without and within—a gentleness and kindness for their fellow beings breaks through. Facing unimaginable difficulties, a generosity of spirit prevails, a willingness to think well of people, even as devastation and despair pulls those in the community down.
We might wonder from a century’s remote perspective how those living through such hardship and heartache managed to find beauty in the ugly and to touch with kindness those less advantaged, even when living with their own ever present loneliness and poverty. What have we lost?
If you guessed from her photo that Fiona is an outdoors enthusiast, you would be right. A former Brit now living in the U.S., Fiona deals in rare and antique books. When she’s not on horseback, walking her beloved spaniel, or in her garden, you’ll find her reading and reviewing.