Adjusting To Life’s Terms: Miss Jane (review)

Miss Jane
Brad Watson
W.W. Norton & Company

Like so many women in the piney woods of Mississippi, Mrs.Chisolm had lost more babies than she had children. So when she found herself miss jane by brad watsonpregnant again–at thirty-nine, no less–she pretended she was not. Better to think it a false pregnancy than one she would lose yet again.

But Nature is a force to be reckoned with–and that baby, Jane, turned the world of her family and the doctor who tended her on end. Born with a genital abnormality, Jane wouldn’t go to school or play with other children because her condition left her incontinent, nor would she ever marry or have children.

But ignore her you couldn’t, for Jane was a bright and sensitive girl who loved life. She was fearless and independent. And although she would rather not have lived with such a difference, “she accepted it as part of who she was, no matter how unsavory. She determined that she would live like any other girl as best she could [and] would adjust her life to its terms accordingly.”

What writer Brad Watson gives us, then, is a story of Jane’s acceptance of her fate and how she dealt with the discomfort and shame of others: the mother who drifted into stony silence, the father who fell under the spell of his own moonshine, the sister who grudgingly offered her a chance at independence. Jane understood her limitations and accepted life as it was. Her family often could not.

But most touching is Jane’s relationship with two men: her doctor and the young man she loved but turned away because of her difference. Dr. Thompson’s kindness was accompanied by a gentle honesty. It was he who explained to Jane her “problem” simply meant something had gone wrong before she was born. She was “complicated, but essentially normal,” he assured her. And Elijah Key, the boy on the next farm, seemed not to understand Jane’s difference–and she came to love him in a sweet and simple way. Again, it was Dr. Thompson who stepped in, telling Jane that she must turn Elijah away because she could never have normal relations–and to help matters along, Jane’s parents sent her to town to live with her sister Grace.

One would think such a loss would turn Jane bitter. And she struggled, yes. But whatever came Jane’s way, she met with quiet strength and resolve. She buried her parents, ran the farm, and stayed close to Dr. Thompson who remained a true friend.

Writer Brad Watson based Jane’s story on that of his great aunt, and he conveyed enough about Jane’s difference to be accurate, but not indelicate. It was only after I read an article about Watson’s aunt on his website that I understood enough to search out a little more information about her condition.

But it’s really not necessary to know the specifics about her condition because Jane’s story is really about the state of her heart–and in that regard, Jane was without a flaw.

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