BookPage Fiction Top Pick, July 2016
About three pages into Miss Jane I found myself both transfixed and perplexed. Who is this Brad Watson and why am I just now discovering him? A finalist for the 2002 National Book Award and a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and Granta, he is certainly a known quantity. But finally with Miss Jane, it seems he has a novel that will break him out to the wider readership he so deserves.
Set in Mercury, Mississippi, in the early 20th century, Miss Jane is the story of Jane Chisolm, a woman born with a genital birth defect that renders her “useless” in a time when a woman was intended for two purposes: marriage and motherhood. Contrary to other independent-minded literary heroines like Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or the unnamed narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Jane is not actively shunning social expectations, but rather forced into a life of solitude by circumstances beyond her control. But her curiosity, courage and resolve to live life on her terms places her in the company of these unique characters.
In Miss Jane, Watson creates a rural Mississippi that exudes Southern gothic at its very best. Jane is a heroine considered by most in her community, including her family, to be damaged goods. And yet, through her relationship with a country doctor who supports and advocates for her, and the gentle boy who loves her despite her abnormality, Jane emerges as the member of her family who experiences the truest forms of love and connection.
Like the peacocks that the doctor raises on his farm, Jane’s strange yet beautiful spirit possesses a haunting, anachronistic beauty. Miss Jane is a truly original novel with a character that readers will cherish. Watson has delivered a striking and unforgettable portrait.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a behind the book feature about Miss Jane.