Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction: Astonishing prose brings to life a forgotten woman and a lost world in a strange and bittersweet Southern pastoral.
Since his award-winning debut collection of stories, Last Days of the Dog-Men, Brad Watson has been expanding the literary traditions of the South, in work as melancholy, witty, strange, and lovely as any in America.
Now, drawing on the story of his own great-aunt, 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: sex and marriage. From the highly erotic world of nature around her to the hard tactile labour of farm life, from the country doctor who befriends her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, Miss Jane Chisolm and her world are anything but barren.
The potency and implacable cruelty of nature, as well as its beauty, is a trademark of Watson’s fiction. In Miss Jane, the author brings to life a hard, unromantic past that is tinged with the sadness of unattainable loves, yet shot through with a transcendent beauty. Jane Chisolm’s irrepressible vitality and generous spirit give her the strength to live her life as she pleases in spite of the limitations that others, and her own body, would place on her. Free to satisfy only herself, she mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
This bittersweet Southern pastoral quietly tells the story of Miss Jane Chisolm, born with a genital birth defect that prevents her from having a normal female life, in rural, early twentieth-century Mississippi. The beautifully precise prose includes a memorable cast of characters, as Jane mesmerises those around her, yet must learn to satisfy herself and her own yearnings.
Lovely, strange, haunting, Watson’s wondrous writing brings to life a forgotten woman.