Thursday, September 24, 2020

Jane Bradley RIP

Jane Bradley
died this week. I was a fan of hers. I knew her a little bit. I got to spend a day with her when she read at a N@B event I hosted and she let me know when she returned to St. Louis another time for a conference and we spent a nice evening at a bar talking about all the things. She wanted to help me get some respectability and I very badly wanted to read her current work in progress, a novel she was calling The Snow Queen of Atlanta which sounded awesome.

It sounded awesome because I'd already published a selection from it as a short story titled The One Good Thing in Noir at the Bar Volume 2. If you were on the ball enough to score a copy of that book and read it, Jane's story was almost assuredly among your favorites and if it wasn't fucking go read that shit again - clearly you missed something. Though fiction it felt realer than most memoirs I've read. The characters and places were built from solid material. The ugly baggage and staggering beauty were earned awfully and wrought honestly. 

I don't know if she ever finished The Snow Queen of Atlanta, but she left behind a body of work full of the same qualities The One Good Thing promised. Below is something I wrote about her novel You Believers for another website in 2011. 

**************************** reprint **************************

Is there anything more devastating than the loss a loved one? Perhaps the uncertainty of the loss of a loved one is worse; the terrible not knowing what has happened, and being plagued by a multitude of awful imaginings. I think of the psychological torture the characters in Tim Krabbe's The Golden Egg (also made into the haunting film The Vanishing) or William Gay's short story The Paperhanger or Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Pledge, (again a good film with the same name directed by Sean Penn and Starring Jack Nicholson) suffered and pray I never know it from the inside.

Shelby Waters knows first hand what it's like. Years after the disappearance of her sister Darly she has started the Rescue Effort Volunteers, (REV) and taken on the responsibility of searching for the missing and helping the loved ones of those gone to live again. When a young woman named Katy Connor goes missing, Shelby is called upon to help put together what's happened. You Believers by Jane Bradley is, in Shelby's words, "Katy's story. At least I think it's Katy's story. It's hard to say sometimes where one woman's story ends and another begins," and it features just about the most devastating opening paragraph I've ever read. Warning: if you pick it up and sample that opening, you, like me, won't be able to stop.

And while it's not what I'd call a feel-good story, a neat and tidy mystery or even a pulse-pounding thriller, it packs more feeling, mystery and pulse raising to potential coronary levels than you have any reasonable right to expect from one book. Sure, it's emotionally loaded material that any hack can exploit for instant intensity, (and in the hands of a lesser writer that's exactly what you'd have here), but Bradley has gone far beyond the broad side of barns and nailed her target so precisely, (with character, with empathy and the space to soak it in) I hope never to be caught in her crosshairs. Let me be clear here too - You Believers is not an endless bummer of a novel. The warmth and human kinship found in the pages would bring me around for seconds in a heartbeat.

"I'm trying to tell you the story, but to give you the story would be like giving you the churning blue sea one bucket at a time. You might taste the salt, feel the cold, but the weight and wave of so much water, well, it's lost."


It's been a couple years since I last talked with Jane, but I think about her often. I recommend You Believers any time someone is looking for gems they probably missed and I'd check trade journals for news of The Snow Queen of Atlanta, but as someone with their own long-overdue novel, I quit nagging her about it long ago. Her story collections Are We Lucky Yet? and Power Lines are still available (Power Lines might only be available as an e-book now). 

Goodbye, Jane. I liked you a lot. I was honored to call you a friend.


Les Edgerton said...

This is really sad. Jane and I (and Vince Zandri) graduated in the same MFA in Writing class at Vermont College. A few years later, she got me hired as the visiting Writer in Residence where I served for three years. I just talked to her last week when she told me she was sorry she wouldn't be able to blurb my new novel as she was sick. I had no idea she was this sick however. We shared many, many great times together and she was a brilliant writer. Her first novel was largely autobiographical and we both saw each other as southern writers. I asked her one time what she thought about a more famous southern writer, Bobbi Ann Mason, and she said, "I don't put grits in my stories," a great comment on how Mason played her southernness into several Paris Review stories. She has a lovely daughter who I know misses her mom an awful lot. Our offices were next to each other at UNT and we usually ended up in one of them, toking on a bottle of Southern Comfort. Little known fact--her own mother was the biggest drug dealer in Nashville and she had a million stories about her childhood. Jane had some big cojones and I'll miss her a lot. RIP little girl!

Les Edgerton said...

Error: Visiting Writer in Residence at the University of Toledo.

jedidiah ayres said...

I knew you knew her - didn't realize you two went back that far though

Les Edgerton said...

Oh, yeah. Also, if you haven't read her first novel, LIVING DOLL, it is totally autobiographial and IMO her most powerful work. I used its opening line as one of the best in my craft book, FINDING YOUR VOICE. When she was barely a teenager, the cops raided her house (a big old Victorian) and she hid in a hidden passageway and spent the next several years on the street, doing "street" things. When she was 18, she followed the Beatles lead and went to visit the Maharishi (sp?) in Tibet and she told me it changed her life. Returning to Nashville, she enrolled in community college and in a comp class. her instructor, a guy named Richard Jackson looked at one of her essays and told her she had definite talent. She was totally surprised at that as she'd never considered herself a writer. Only time I've ever heard of a comp class actually doing a student any good. At the time, Mr. Jackson was an unknown, but he later became a nationally-famous poet and taught at Vermont College, where Jane and I both graduated from. She was responsible for bringing my first mentor, Tim O'Brien (THE THINGS WE CARRIED, etc.,) to speak at UT so I could see him again. (I was selected for a workshop in the early nineties that Tim led and on our first break he took me outside and told me my writing reminded him of Raymond Carver's (whom I had never heard of) and a year later, the NY Times also compared me to Carver, so he had a good ear. I have lots of stories about Jane but I won't relate them as some of them may have involved breaking laws and I don't want to besmirch anything at all about her memory... although I suspect she wouldn't give a shit. Vince Zandri was also in our class and in our little group. Ask Vince about Jane... Next time we meet in person I'll tell you some of them, Jed. She was definitely one of the guys, spirit-wise, and could flat-out kick any guy's ass I know... RIP, Living Doll...

Vincent Zandri said...

Super saddened to hear this. Jane was one of kind, and sooooo different from the snobbery of the MFA students and profs I knew back when we were in writing school in the mid 90's. Like Les pointed out in his comment, our little pack was a bit different from the far larger pack of wear-in-on-your-sleeve-got-a-clove-cigarette-I-can-bum jamokes, and we all ended up doing pretty well I must say. But Jane was in a class all her own. A tremendous talent, could drink you under the table, and was happy to make you feel like a man while not being at all afraid of being a sexy dame (can I say dame in 2020?). I remember reading with her at the KGB in NYC going on 25 years ago and she was able to bring the house down then. This is one of those, I haven't spoken to her in ages kind of ting, because she will be around for ages. So what's the rush? Well, turns out, death is something that should make all us want to reconnect. You will be missed Jane! Bon voyage!

jedidiah ayres said...

thanks, guys