cover image Miss Jane

Miss Jane

Brad Watson. Norton, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-24173-0

“Who can say what life will make of a body?” Watson (House of Mercury) asks in the affecting, nuanced story of a girl who “did not fear her own strangeness.” Jane, the youngest daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, is born with a genital defect that renders her incontinent and incapable of having children. A local doctor takes an interest in Jane’s case—as well as her father’s home-brewed apple brandy—and becomes a lifelong advisor and confidant to the “prodigiously contemplative” girl. Jane is most comfortable in the woods around her house, though she does tentatively engage with the world, knowing full well that “she would always be the odd one, the one with the secret.” She indulges in a girlhood romance cautiously, unsure about what, if anything, to reveal about her condition. Jane is a great watcher, and the novel wonderfully conveys the amorous intensity with which she experiences nature’s fecundity, “the burst of salty liquid from a plump and ice-cold raw oyster, the soft skins of wild mushrooms... the tight and unopened bud of a flower blossom.” The story of Jane’s lonely, lovely life is more powerful because of its emotional reserve. With the exception of several stagey confrontations involving Jane’s older, coarser sister, Grace, Watson lets his ethereal heroine retain her quiet, dignified air of mystery. (July)