Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: Miss Jane by Brad Watson

You would not think someone so afflicted would or could be cheerful, not prone to melancholy or miseries. ~ Opening of Miss Jane


Miss Jane by Brad Watson
W.W. Norton & Company, 2016
Fiction (Historical); 284 pgs


Brad Watson’s Miss Jane is the story of Jane Chisolm, a woman born with a genital birth defect. The novel, based loosely on the life of a relative of the author, takes the reader deep into rural Mississippi during the early twentieth century. Jane was born on her family’s farm to a mother whose heart was heavy from the loss of her young son and a distant but hardworking father.

Jane is isolated most of her life, attending only a semester of school. She is fairly precocious, however, picking up reading and math quickly on her own. She knows she will never led the normal expected life of a woman due to her deformity, but it does not stop her from feeling or loving or even living.

Given what I had heard about the book going in, I thought it would be more cheerful than it was. That isn’t to say it’s sad, but it is a book about life. And life, as most of us know, can be pretty messy and has its ups and downs. And so it is with Jane and her family. I appreciated the author’s depiction of each of the character’s, from Jane’s somber mother, her rebellious sister, and her distant father who finds comfort more and more in his apple brandy to the more thoughtful and curious Jane. This is as much a coming of age story as it is a character study. The reader sees Jane discovering who she is, struggling to accept her differences and eventually coming into her own. She knows loneliness and isolation. She knows hope and peace. Jane has a strong advocate in Dr. Thompson who befriends the child and does what he can to guide and protect her as she grows up.

I was particularly taken with Grace, Jane’s strong willed sister who wanted only to get out and away from her family. There was a part of me who could relate to her restlessness and feeling of being trapped. When she finally does get away, she proves she can weather just about any storm—her will to survive and stand on her own two feet strong.

Jane is a strong person herself, but in a different way than Grace. While Grace is all edges, Jane is smoother. Her strength is quieter and maybe not quite so obvious. She has a gentler approach to life, her curiosity and thoughtfulness carrying her through. It was impossible not to like Jane. She reminded me a bit of Melanie from The Girl With All the Gifts in that way. I couldn’t help but cheer for Jane and want for her all that life could offer. She makes the most of what she does have, which I think is a lesson many of us should take to heart.

The setting is very much a part of the story, the rural farm and woods surrounding it as well as the small town. The reader gets a real feel for what life was like during that time period, through the good times and then as the Depression sets in.

I found Miss Jane slow going, and I was easily distracted as I read. I am not entirely sure that is the book’s fault though given my state of mind and what was going on in my life at the time I read it. Had it not been for my Going Postal book club, I probably would have set it aside to try again at a later time. It says something though that I still came away from this novel appreciating and liking it overall. 

You can learn more about Brad Watson and his books on the author's website


© 2017, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

28 comments:

  1. This is probably too slow for me right now. Kudos to you for sticking it out.

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    1. Kathy - I am glad I did stick it out. I just wish I had been in a different place mentally when I read it.

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  2. Great review! Sounds like a good read for a lazy day, when the mind's clear(:

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    1. Eustacia - It would be a good one to settle in with when you have a nice chunk of time to read. :-)

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  3. A book with great characterisation and an interesting setting but I think I'll have problem with the slow pace given my current mood for something more intense but I'll keep this book in mind should the mood calls for it. Thanks for your great review, Wendy!

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    1. Melody - I loved the characterization in this one. I do recommend it if and when the mood strikes. :-)

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  4. Books set in Mississippi are favorites, and fortunately (or unfortunately), "slow" is a very true aspect of life here, especially in the more rural areas and during the Depression specifically. I'm adding this one to my TBR :) Enjoyed your review.

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    1. Peppermint - Thank you! Fortunately slow doesn't always equal bad or boring. :-) There are plenty of slower books I have enjoyed (like the one I am reading now), but this one wasn't quite the escape I needed at the time I was reading it.

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  5. I've read a couple of books here recently where I just kept getting distracted as well. Real life butting into reading is no fun!

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    1. Sarah - Real life has a way of doing that, doesn't it?

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  6. Isn't that a beautiful cover? The main characters sounds so interesting and I think I could enjoy this one!

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    1. Iliana - I like the cover too. I hope you like this one if you read it!

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    1. Jenclair - I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before it arrived in my mailbox. I don't know that I would have picked it up on my own, but I'm glad I got the chance to read it.

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  8. I get in impatient moods sometimes when I'm reading and find myself giving up on slow going books too soon. But life is short; I don't want to spend too much time on books I'm not loving. :D

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    1. Lark - Some of the best books I have read are the slower ones. I can usually tell when I might like a book but am not quite in the mood for it from a book I won't like at all. This is one of those that I am glad I didn't give up on. The timing might not have been the best, but I liked the book.

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  9. I appreciate your honest opinion. I try to avoid sad stuff.

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  10. It sounds good though sad and I'm not sure my brain can handle a slow paced book. Maybe after the holidays when I'm able to form a complete sentence again?

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    1. Katherine - Haha! Yes, that might be better timing.

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  11. This sounds really interesting but the fact that you wanted to set it aside makes me think that it is not for me.

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    1. Carole - I think it was mostly because of timing for me and not really because of the book.

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  12. I felt very much the same way about it... I liked it, but.. I'm glad I had the experience of reading it (even though it took longer than I would have liked), but I'm not sure it would be one of my first recommendations to another reader.

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    1. Melinda - Yeah, I do not think this one would be for everyone. I am glad I read it too though.

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  13. A beautiful and thoughtful review, Wendy! I found Miss Jane was the type of book that once you get into it, really reaches into the heart and soul.

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    1. Catherine - Thank you! Jane really is a special woman. I'm glad I read this one.

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  14. A book about life. That says it all. I love these types of books but theses days, with all the news hitting us left and right, I am choosing escape books instead.

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    1. Ti - At least it doesn't go into politics and there's no mass murder. Seriously though, I know what you mean. Escape seems so good right now.

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