We, Jane by Aimee Wall

There is so much to say about Aimee Wall’s debut novel We, Jane. In a tight 200 pages, Wall’s poetic prose chronicles the complicated relationships between women of different generations and life experiences. Through these connections, readers are exposed to the complex geography of reproductive rights and to legacies of local knowledge. Characters provide abortion services in rural areas despite the stigma, vulnerability, and potential downfall the act may bring. The narrative also offers a self-reflective, almost metafictional account of art as a form of social critique. Narrator Marthe longs to create something to honour the precarious lives of the women she is drawn to, and she reflects on this need as she faces new and difficult situations.

The narrative orbits around two unlikely friends who, after meeting in Montreal, end up travelling back home to rural Newfoundland. Marthe is in her early thirties and coasting on the fumes of a failed relationship. Feeling unsatisfied with her life, she searches for, and feels unsure about, all the ways to create connection and change in her life and community. Her companion is older, rougher, and more assertive; she appears to have cultivated a sense of self that Marthe envies. The younger woman longs to absorb this confident energy and becomes swept up in the frenzy of their connection. When the women arrive in Newfoundland, their characters shift as they begin their mission. As Marthe meets other ‘odd women’, her perception of herself and her life changes. This shifting asks readers to reflect on what we have been told so far, and to contemplate the possibility of alternative futures by the novel’s close.

“Wall’s facility with language is at times breathtaking. Likewise, her ability to balance vivid snippets of both the everyday and the extraordinary pulls the reader along.”

The crew of (mostly) Newfoundland women at the heart of the narrative underscores the unique ways that people can be brought together to make change. While a connection to place is a common link between the women, and they mostly get along, it is their investment in making care accessible that generates a strong collective. A self-assured woman ready to live off grid develops a bond with a filmmaker from urban America. A restless hometown hero establishes close ties with a woman trying to discover a sense of place. Those adept at the comfort of Jiggs dinner create safe spaces for those who feel unsure of their purpose. The nuance of relationships between women – rooted in love, desire, longing, tension, anger, need, disagreement, vulnerability, strength, and deceit – is explored in affective detail. So too are questions of home and difference raised and reflected upon with care.

Wall’s facility with language is at times breathtaking. Likewise, her ability to balance vivid snippets of both the everyday and the extraordinary pulls the reader along. There is a familiar and tangible sense of awkward desperation throughout the novel as Marthe scrabbles her way toward a sense of purpose. Though at times her internal back-and-forth is a bit disorienting or can fall into long reflections on the intricacies of a moment, Marthe’s almost frantic need to stop, think, and position herself and others leads to an intricate portrayal of her unfolding sense of self and the complicated relations between the women she meets. With aspects reminiscent of Mariam Toews, Gail Scott, and Lisa Moore, Wall’s prose is fierce yet tender as it navigates the uncertainties of belonging, womanhood, and the often underdiscussed intersection of rural life and reproductive politics. We, Jane is an ode to the power of vulnerability, the potential intensity of connections between women, and the importance of continuing to support women even when it seems impossible.

Newfoundland-native Aimee Wall is a writer and translator. Her essays, short fiction, and criticism have appeared in numerous publications, including MaisonneuveMatrix Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and Lemon Hound. Wall’s translations include Vickie Gendreau’s novels Testament (2016), and Drama Queens (2019), and Sports and Pastimes by Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard (2017). She lives in Montreal. We, Jane is her first novel.

  • Publisher : Book*hug Press (April 27 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771666706
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771666701

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Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles.