c.2016, W.W. Norton $25.95 / $33.95 Canada 284 pages
Your mother called it an “angel’s kiss.”
Ugh. Lots of people are born with birthmarks or unique features but you saw yours as a flaw and you hated it for years. Slowly, though, you came to embrace it, to see it as something that sets you apart, and now you wouldn’t erase it for the world. As in the new novel, “Miss Jane” by Brad Watson, it’s a part of who you are.
In her later years, Jane wasn’t afraid of anything. Oh, sure, she didn’t care much for horses or bodies of water until her father taught her differently, years ago, but grown up, she was fearless. She just lived her life by her Mississippi garden, unafraid, and vexed by but accustomed to the incontinence she’d endured since the day she was born.
Jane’s mother was too old to be having another baby back then and everybody knew it, especially Ida Chisolm. It was 1915, and Ida had already lost enough children so she wasn’t putting too much stock in the life of this’un. When Jane was born with something wrong down there, Ida blamed herself for a good long time, and never really did cozy up to her youngest daughter.
Because of that, Grace, the oldest daughter and the only Chisolm child left at home, was saddled with babysitting. It rankled her; everything did, in fact, and even though she was barely old enough to be in school, she knew right then that motherhood was not for her. Even at that tender age, Grace couldn’t wait to get away.
When Jane was born, Sylvester Chisolm was unsure what to call his child. Clearly, she was a daughter but something was wrong. Still, though men of his day never fussed much about babies, Chisolm took particular delight in his youngest. He taught her about trees and birds, how to fish, and how to be self-sufficient. She’d need that.
For many years after Dr. Thompson helped Jane into the world, he kept an eye on her. He advised her, taught her about her body, and counseled her when she started noticing boys. He was her friend.
And when Jane was old enough for the truth, he told her…
Here’s a challenge for you this fall: find a book that’s as beautiful as “Miss Jane.”
Wait, don’t bother. It’s impossible.
From almost the first page of this story of a hard-scrabble life, you’ll find yourself basking in words that set difficulty awash in lushness. Based on a real person, author Brad Watson’s Jane is a dutiful daughter, smart and a little too nosy, and remarkably unabashed about her physical anomaly – at least, at first. Watson wisely allows his character to mature, both in body and in mind, which inevitably leads to the sweetest, loveliest bust-your-heart-in-tiny-pieces passages you may ever read.
Be aware that parts of this book may make you squirm, if you a sensitive type but mostly, you’ll just float on the sentences inside this book. Start “Miss Jane” and kiss your afternoon goodbye.