Brad Watson’s novel, “Miss Jane” is a treasure. It is a simple story, beautifully written.
Jane Chisolm, a character based on the author’s great aunt, was born on a farm in Mississippi in 1915 with a genital birth defect that caused her to experience lifelong incontinence and the inability to engage in normal sexual activity. At that time, there were no medical procedures to correct the condition.
Because of the social stigma involved, Jane lived in isolation on her parent’s farm for most of her life, venturing out only after she had fasted to the point of dehydration in order to prevent a toileting accident. Her one chance at love was thwarted by others who believed that her union with a man would not end well.
Her family had its own struggles. The loss of one child to illness and another to stillbirth left her mother broken, bitter and unready to take on the responsibilities of a child with Jane’s concerns. Her father, trying to keep the farm afloat during the depression, had to deal with his own ghosts, as well as his wife’s anger and distain. Too often, he found consolation in his homemade brew. Jane’s older siblings left home as soon as they possibly could, leaving her alone with her parents.
The country doctor who delivered Jane continued to monitor her condition and kept updated on the possibility of new medical treatments. He watched over her, checking on her often, and offered advice and concern that resulted in an endearing friendship. Eventually, Jane learned to accept herself and began to resent attempts by others to ‘fix’ her.
Jane is beautiful, not in spite of her disability, but because of the insight and strength she gains from her unique set of circumstances. In some ways, this book is a heartbreaking story. But, in the end, the sadness is felt more for the broken relationships of those around her than it is for Jane, who finds satisfaction and even joy in her simple life.
Watson’s thoughtful tale of a woman with this type of physical disability is sensitively written and inspiring. Find a comfortable chair and a bottomless cup of tea because “Miss Jane” is book that you won’t want to stop reading.