Miss Jane

Miss Jane: A Novel

W.W. Norton & Company

Drawing on the story of his own great-aunt, Brad Watson explores the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, born in rural, early twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place – namely, sex and marriage. From the highly erotic world of nature around her to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the country doctor who befriends Jane to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisolm is anything but barren. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.

What booksellers & writers are saying about Miss Jane

“With an unparalleled depth of empathy, a painter’s eye and a poet’s ear, Brad Watson has captured the remarkable life a girl and woman who otherwise would have been forgotten. In the hands of a lesser writer, Jane Chisolm’s fate would be cause for a mournful lament, an elegy to all that is lost. Yet here, in this exquisitely written novel, we are given a life in all of its unsentimental and symphonic complexity, a solitary soul in love with the natural world and all that can be found there, including a reflection of one’s mortal self. Miss Jane is an artistic triumph, a novel that will linger inside you as long as your own memories do. Brad Watson’s gifts are immense.”

     —Andre Dubus III, author of Townie and Dirty Love

“Miss Jane is a beautifully written, great-hearted and at times heart-breaking novel about decent but wounded people trying to make their way in the world. Watson’s creations could easily become mere caricatures in a lesser writer’s hands, but he never condescends to them or their plights, especially Miss Jane herself, who dances despite knowing that the dance and all that it represents “was something with no long life ahead.  Miss Jane takes its readers beyond the usual l levels of a novel’s power and into the sublime.”

     —Ron Rash, author of The Cove

Miss Jane is stunning in its tenderness, originality and intelligence. Brad Watson creates a vivid, colorful atmosphere about a certain time and place in a way that is magical. Likewise, his characters, especially Miss Jane — an unforgettable character with a great, heroic spirit — also come to life in all their human powers, peculiarities, and frailties. I can’t wait to recommend Miss Jane to others, and strongly believe the book may tap a broad vein of readership — similar to Lily King’s Euphoria.  A great achievement for Mr Watson that I couldn’t be happier about. Totally thrilled.

     —Richard Howorth, Square Books (Oxford, MS)

“Sometimes a novel comes along that changes the lives of those who read it.  Brad Watson’s Miss Jane is that kind of novel.  Watson takes as his inspiration the studied care of Gustave Flaubert.  Yet his plaintive, intelligent, spirit-riven portrait of Jane Chisolm exceeds mere inspiration.  Watson has become our Flaubert.  With its gleanings of attainment and sorrow, Miss Jane is that beautiful—and profound.”

     —Alyson Hagy, author of Boleto

Excerpt from “The Case of Jane Chisolm versus Mary Ellis ‘Jane’ Clay

Jane Chisolm was inspired by my Great-Aunt Mary Ellis “Jane” Clay, born in 1888 on a farm in east-central Mississippi. She died in my nearby hometown of Meridian in 1975.
I have only one personal memory of ever seeing Aunt Jane. When I was a boy, my mother’s extended family gathered every Sunday afternoon at my grandmother’s house. We children ranged the hundred or more acres that included the pastures, the cow pond, the pine grove beyond that, and the large old barn, complete with tall hayloft that looked out onto the pecan grove, which in those days still bore nuts that crunched beneath our feet in the thick, coarse grass.
The highlight of every visit came around three or four in the afternoon, when Uncle Tommy would open the general store he operated across the road and treat us to Nutty Buddies, Eskimo Pies, and Popsicles. One day, when we were waiting around for that hour, a car came up the red dirt road and parked beneath the live oak. A man got out, went around to the passenger door. He leaned in and came out with his hands under the arm of an old, thin, frail-looking woman, dressed entirely in black, her long gaunt face vaguely obscured by a black lace veil pinned to the front of her little black hat. An uncle trotted over from the house to help, and the old woman was carefully conveyed across the yard to the house, the men’s hands gently gripping her bony elbows and resting against the small of her back. All we children had fallen silent and still as we watched the grave and strange processional.
One of my cousins whispered: “That’s Aunt Jane.” MORE

“What a beautiful gift Brad Watson has delivered. I love Jane. I can’t wait until my daughters are old enough to read this book. I believe readers everywhere will cherish this book – when life continues to get more and more complicated and so much of our entertainment is indicative of the worst of humanity, Miss Jane provides us with the very best of humanity. The book brought me back to the first time I read The Bluest Eye and Ellen Foster. It is sure to take its place among those classics and no doubt will be taught in schools in the future.”

     —Kelly Kornegay,
     Turnrow Books (Greenwood, MI)

“Calmly, quietly, with deceptive simplicity, Brad Watson’s moving, McCuller-esque tale brings to life a most unusual woman, finding a most unusual grace.”

     —Andrea Barrett, author of Archangel

Like Lars Gustafsson’s “Greatness Strikes Where It Pleases,” Miss Jane is both winning and big-hearted in its embrace of and appreciation for what seems to be disabling difference.  Its young protagonist is brave enough and wise enough to make the best sort of ongoing accommodation with her own isolating strangeness in a world that can’t offer much by way of support beyond discretion and tolerance, and one of this book’s great pleasures is the flowering of her progression from loneliness to a new understanding of her place within but apart from creation.

     —Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron

“Miss Jane us the best new thing I’ve read in the longest time. Brilliant novel. Watson doesn’t make any of the dumb cornball mistakes he could have made. I was just knocked out by it. A beautiful book to read slowly. Just love the character Jane – she is so brave – a completely wonderful, wonderful character. For so long I’ve been getting novels that seem like other ones, and this on just in’t like anything else. A serious winner.”

     —Paul Ingram,
     Prairie Lights (Iowa City, IA)

“Miss Jane is a novel of majestic empathy, an immaculate conjuring of a woman born strangely formed, her consequent inability to be sexually intimate giving her access to infinitely tender erotic witness. Readers have Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Gustav Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, Harper Lee’s Scout – to these and other immortal women of literature, we can now add Brad Watson’s divine beacon of love, Miss Jane.”

     —Melissa Pritchard, author of Palmerino and A Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, and Write

“If asked, I could quote quite a few passages from each of Brad Watson’s previous books. I am, in other words, a fan of long standing. So please know I’m not blowing hot air when I say that in the stunning MISS JANE, this supremely talented writer has created his finest and most surprising work to date. I will not forget these characters, or their story, or this richly evoked place. Wise, generous and beautifully written, Watson’s new novel is a treasure.”

     —Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances

“Brad Watson deserves applause not only for capturing a slice of the American South of a century ago but also for managing to inhabit convincingly the consciousness of a woman left from birth in a kind of gender limbo.  It was a pleasure to ride the tide of his artful and efficient sentences through this unusual tale.”

     —Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States