Paul's Corner: Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Miss Jane Chisolm was born in rural Mississippi at the turn of the 20th century to poor farmers. She was born with a congenital birth defect which prevented her from what was considered the central “uses” of a woman in that time and place: sex and marriage. She figured out early on not only her limitations, but also her own brilliance and wisdom. She befriends an alcoholic country doctor, who writes to Johns Hopkins to try to get help for her. Reconstructive surgery, unfortunately, was rather a new discipline at this time. Her life contains many joys, and Brad Watson’s beautiful prose delivers them to his readers, with enormous grace.
“You would not think someone so afflicted would or could be cheerful. Early on she acquired ways of dealing with her life, with life in general. And as she grew older it became clear that she feared almost nothing—perhaps only horses and something she couldn’t quite name, a strange presence of danger not quite or not really a part of the world.”
Here is a novel with more joy and fascination than you’re likely to find in anything else you read this year. I read it twice. The character of Miss Jane is based on Watson’s great aunt, who obviously made a deep impression on him.