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.
In his newest novel, Miss Jane, Watson’s facility with upending expectations and upsetting the lines between all sorts of categories — good and bad, normal and abnormal, pride and shame, love and hate — is at its keenest and applied most carefully ... Through the doctor and Jane’s father, Watson expresses a tenderness that is one of the novel’s finest achievements ... the complexity and drama of Watson’s gorgeous work here is life’s as well: Sometimes physical realities expand us, sometimes trap; sometimes heroism lies in combating our helplessness, sometimes in accepting it. A writer of profound emotional depths, Watson does not lie to his reader, so neither does his Jane.
Using language that is both candid and askew, Watson infuses the story with curiosity, uncertainty, and, not unlike Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, a certain wildness ... Miss Jane covers a quiet, often solitary lifetime enriched by the unfettered outdoors, the tough routine of farm life, and the ache of unconsummated love. Watson’s characters are mentally dexterous in spite of their physical hardship. The book plays on the tongue like an oyster — first salty, then cold — before slipping away to be consumed and digested.
Comprised mostly of vignettes, the novel never gains much momentum. But it’s not without drama ...When focused on Janie’s psychology—instead of the concerns of her caretakers—the book is a showcase of Watson’s talent for eking poetics out of country folksiness ... In all its verisimilitude, Miss Jane is painful and hopeful in almost equal measure, a story worth telling even as it breaks your heart.