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.
You would not think someone so afflicted would or could be cheerful, not prone to melancholy or the miseries. Early on she acquired ways of dealing with her life, with life in general. And as she grew older it became evident that she feared almost nothingperhaps only horses and something she couldn't quite name, a strange presence of danger not quite or not really a part of the world.
She didn't fear a fever of the kind that had taken brother William at the age of three, before she was born. To her mind such fate belonged to that child, not her.
She wasn't afraid of snakes, not even the poisonous kind, for she believed they wouldn't bite her if she simply left them alone. Mosquitoes, for some reason of their own, did not bite her, although she took no precautions against them.
She did not fear chickens, because she found them to be comically sagein spite of what people said about stupid chickens. The same with pigs, although ...
It is not often that you happen upon a book so eloquently written, interesting in subject matter and overflowing with emotions. Simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, this wonderful novel tapped every single feeling possible.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Full Review (745 words).
Miss Jane is based on Brad Watson's great aunt's life. She, like the central character in his novel, suffered from a genital birth defect. But what exactly was it?
In an interview at W.W. Norton, Watson says:
As was common in her day (she actually lived from 1888-1975, but it applies to my Jane's day and time, too), no one really talked about it. And so no one alive by the time I came into the world really knew "what was wrong with Aunt Jane." One of the more difficult parts of my research was figuring out what her condition may have been. I had little to go on: her known incontinence, and a late discovery that she had only one opening for the elimination of waste, which led me down a long path of crossing out this and ...
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