Another Example of Poetic Moving Melancholia from a Sagacious, Southern Spirit

The Problems: Jane has a problem. The technical term is Urogenital sinus anomaly with persistent cloaca. In short, it’s where a woman’s plumbing does not work normally. She has only one exit for both urine and stool. What’s more, she cannot bear children because her uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries have developed abnormally. This is the medical problem that the protagonist of Brad Watson’s fine novel has.

But of course, this medical condition leads to other problems. She is a pariah. Folks don’t know what to make of her. The doctor, one of the few educated enough to understand Jane’s condition, does understand, however, and acts largely as an educator, friend, and instrument of grace in Jane’s life. He becomes a friend to her and a kind of benefactor. And there is a remnant of others who see her for the wonder that she is. But Jane has it rough, and it’s a time in history where, if you are a woman with “a condition,” you were thereby condemned to remaining single, unmarried, and largely alone.

The Setting: The setting is similar to that of fellow Mississippi writer William Faulkner’s masterpieces–impoverished people, hard-living, hard-drinking, often hard-hearted men and women, often abusive to themselves and to those around them, and all during lean years in bleak impoverished Mississippi.

The Beauty: There is beauty, too, though. The sounds at twilight are of tree frogs and cicadas, and of the train rolling down the rails between the pines. Cows munch behind farmers’ barbed wire fences and dogs roam the countryside. Turkeys and deer fill the woods. Below’s an example of Watson’s attention to setting:

And then there was the long quiet afternoon of autumn, then middle and late winter. Crows angling curious over the fields. Hawks hovering for mice exposed in sparse cover. A light cold breeze. Hard frosted soil. Evergreen pines seen through bare limbs of oaks, sycamores, sweetgums, hickories, maple, poplar, beech. The crooked, crazed, leafless pecans in the neglected grove, the weathered barn, rusted roof tin, rusted barbed wire, implements. Huddled cattle. Weathered grazing horse and mules. Gray scudded sky. (257)

Jane–overlooked, maligned, misunderstood (by almost all), develops nonetheless to outlive her critics. She learns the names of trees, the sounds doves make and what those sounds signify, the ways in which worms feed off the leaves and grow plump for the birds who eye them from above, the peacocks’ coloration and displays, and the feel of the creek bed sliding between her toes.

If you appreciate fiction about survivors, about the misunderstood vessels of beauty in a world spinning in the crass, Watson’s Miss Jane will reward your time. Thank you, Brad Watson. You, like your protagonist, left us too soon.

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