Title: Jane Was Here
Author: Sarah Kernochan
Published: 2011 by Grey Swan Press
Rating: 4 of 5
Read in: 7 days
I received my copy of this book through Goodreads' First Reads program. While it took me a bit to get into the story, in definitely will not let the reader soon forget it. A very intriguing set of characters and a multi-dimensional plot will eventually win over any fan of mystery or historical fiction.
To be honest, I hated most of the characters, but I think (I hope!) this is what the author was going for. Every character is actively portrayed as heartless and selfish. Only when Jane comes to town does any real emotion show among the characters, though only towards Jane. It's as if Jane IS the very heart of Graynier. Also, all of her present-day characters are horribly corrupt and crude, and most of the 19th century characters possess unfavorable traits. Marly Walczak, for instance, is the "town whore" and mother to an illegitimate daughter quickly following her mother's example. Marly also happens to be the reincarnation of Graynier's founder, taking on symptoms of his suffering and death from tuberculosis during her own suffering with cancer, suicide attempt, and eventual death in a fire. Whores, a drunk, a thief, a drug dealer, a man who feels no love for his child, a runaway, out-of-control children- present-day Graynier has them all. As well it seems it should given it's dark past. Many characters seem to take on habits and characteristics of their earlier counterparts. Gita Poonchwalla is considered a kleptomaniac, stashing stolen items under her bed. In her previous life as Jane's sister Rebecca, habitually stole money from her father. Both meet their fate at the bottom of Pease Pond.
The story line is very inventive. Strange and unfortunate things begin happening in the small Massachusetts town of Graynier upon the arrival of a young woman who speaks and acts as if she has jumped straight out of the 1800s. And indeed, she kind of has. She seems to be the missing link that kept the old souls calm and stirred them up upon her arrival. "Jane" volunteers no information about herself as she walks right into the home Brett Sampson is renting while spending the summer with his estranged son. She simply makes herself at home, demanding that this was her home two centuries before. She has a strange pull on Brett and so begins the quest to uncover the truth about the town's dark, horrifying past, and the inhabitants whose souls seem forever bound to this cursed place. The plot is very involved and deep, and Kernochan leaves plenty of hints and clues as to the true identities of the characters, but doesn't always come out and say it, giving the reader the satisfaction of independently putting a few pieces of the puzzle together.
I really enjoyed the format Kernochan uses to develop her story. Divided into three parts, each part focuses on one dimension of the overall plot. Part one introduces the present-day characters and lets the reader view their lives and problems already existing before "Jane" shows up in the small town of Graynier, Massachusetts. Part two is a collection of letters Jane writes to the man she loves, Lysander Trane, in the early days of America. It introduces and follows the characters living in Graynier during the mid-1800s. Finally, the third part drives home the relationships between the 1800s residents and their reincarnated selves driven back together in Graynier to relive the tragedies of their previous lives. Part three takes what feels like two completely unrelated story lines and seamlessly combines them together. The only change I would have liked to see in the format would be dates on the letters in part two to better track progression of time.
I think the town's historian Elsa Graynier sums up the entire premise of the book toward the very end when she says: "When you get old you know that everything comes and goes and then comes along again." While a little slow-moving at the beginning for my taste, I promise the read is well worth it! Very few other books have left me stunned clear to the conclusion. I give Jane Was Here four out of five stars for inventiveness and story-telling ability. Not many novels are written in present tense, so the author is to be commended for shaking up the literary community with a little variety in writing style. I wouldn't say the book was life-changing for me but it is, without a doubt, one of a kind.”