We all have a story. We all have a quilt. Few of us have one with such complex threads. Jane has that, and much more. She has woven a masterpiece inside 144,000 words (which is about 593 pages in manuscript form), braided with the hands of a master craftswoman.
What Jane does not have, however, is a publisher. Unfortunately, Snooki can snag a multi-million dollar deal for a book (about what? Being Snooki?), while Jane gets to finish writing hers in a Starbucks parking lot in a borrowed pickup truck. This is better, I suppose, than trying to write a masterpiece like this while inflating penile implants for $7 an hour, which Jane can tell you all about. (See what I mean? How many of us can lay claim to writing a 500+ page book and a past that includes inflating penile implants? Seriously.)
I want to tell you a little about Jane’s book, Elephant Girl. And if you trust me even a little bit, I want you to reach out to anyone you might know who might know someone in the publishing industry who might just want to make this into a book that I can buy and smell the newness of the paper and print, and open very carefully and begin to read again and again and again.
If our stories were quilts, they’d all be a little bit different. Some of us would have traditional patterns; others would piece together something geometric and modern. Some would be made of new cloth in primary colors; others pieced together from old t-shirt memories still carrying a faint scent of fabric softener and the occasion. Still others would be family heirlooms, passed carefully down through the generations, each telling own piece of a long family history. And if we were to pull those quilts off the shelf and begin to tell the stories they contain, each would be unique but linked together in conventional ways: a childhood, school, friends, tears, loves, partners, ex-partners, loss and laughter. Some would have children’s threads, but others wouldn’t. Mostly they would be stories of ordinary people sewn into a blanket of lives, threaded together by the commonness of human existence.
But over there in the corner there is a quilt unlike any quilt. It’s beautiful, but not in a conventional sense. It stands out because it speaks of unspeakable things. It’s woven from tears and grit and the pure determination of a spirit that refuses to be crushed. There’s a square woven and sewn from the shorn hair of an unfairly punished child in the bottom-most corner. In another corner is a square made from cheap boxer shorts that used to belong to the sleazy ex. In yet another corner, there’s a piece of a child’s dress, likely acquired in a thrift shop but still treasured by the mother and daughter alike. There is a square made from the threadbare denim of an absent son — then, as now. In the center there is an image of an elephant with sad, wise eyes.
The quilt is pieced together by a woman who cannot be described as a heroine, and yet she is. Her quilt is a living tribute to hope and a slap in the face of human cruelty. It is a phoenix, thrice reborn.
But of course, it isn’t a quilt at all. It’s a book. One of the best books I have read in a very long time written by a woman of inestimable talent.
I have written about Jane Devin before — here, and also here. But it is one thing to be a fan of someone’s blog and entirely another to find oneself lost in the threads of a 500+ page book that person you know as a blogger has written. It is one thing to love her poetry and another to invest the time to read each one of the words she has strung together in a breathtaking blaze of wordcraft. Yes, it is different. The reward is a thousand times better for making the investment in the book.
I started Elephant Girl at midnight. I read the prologue and thought it could possibly be written in a slightly different voice to punch it up. I even wrote and told her that.
I was wrong.
What Jane has done with this book is to guide the reader into her life gently, but with absolute honesty right at the start. No voice but her voice will work here, or anywhere else in the book. From the 12-year old voice to the 47-year old voice, it is all her, and her life. A life unapologetically lived. A life full of twists and turns that sometimes make your hair curl and at other times make you want to stand up and shout to get out — GET OUT — get out, Jane before they get you and eat you. You understand the mother before too long, or at least you think you do. But really, you come to understand the mother as Jane comes to understand the mother. And the sister. And the sleazebags along the way as well as the kind strangers, exploitive manipulators and just friggin’ lucky breaks from time to time.
You see parts of yourself and your own life, but in a slightly different shade than the one on her palette. There’s even some shame that comes with knowing that your life maybe had its share of tough times but if you had her share you’d likely not have come through it without a streak of self-pity, something she wills herself not to have.
Anyone can tell stories where they’re the victim, but it’s something else again to be victimized and yet not write from the perspective of a victim. This is what makes Jane’s story so compelling. Things happen. Shit happens. But even at the darkest, deepest, most profound low point, there isn’t a sense of self-pity.
From her poem, Cousteau’s Daughter — one of the most compelling and haunting poems I’ve read:
You know you will never be a cheerleader
because those glory days never began
& you could never shout with your mouth
open in favor of violent men
What drives this book is hope. And determination. And love. And passion. Much, much passion. But above all, it’s glued with unabashed honesty and a steel backbone. Nothing is held back, not her anger, not her bewilderment, not her confusion, and not even her efforts to push herself into what society considers to be “normal”, whatever that might be.
As one who is often accused of being too intense, too loyal, too focused, too passionate, I know what it feels like to be placed in the box and measured against the others lined up next to me. I have been told I was arrogant when I felt confident. Was it me? I’m told I write like a man because a woman couldn’t write with a strong voice like mine. Nonsense, all nonsense, but these things are small things compared to Jane and the journey she has had in 46 short years.
Please, if you know of anyone willing to read her manuscript and give her a shot at a publishing deal — an agent, an editor, someone who knows someone — reach out to her via her blog and let her know.
This book deserves to be published. It deserves a number in the Library of Congress. It deserves to be one that a mother gives to her daughter to read, telling her that it is, above all, the tale of a woman who refuses to be broken no matter how hard she is bent.
Snooki has a few more years to live before ever hoping to touch the very tip of the iceberg Jane has climbed, hacked and melted. It comes down to substance, art, and the poetry of a life lived roughly but always with hope.
[note: edited to clarify the timeline for penile implant inflation and masterpiece memoir creation]
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