jane: a murder by maggie nelson



Jane tells the spectral story of the life and death of Maggie Nelson’s aunt Jane who was murdered in 1969 while a first-year law student at the University of Michigan. Though officially unsolved, Jane’s murder was apparently the third in a series of seven brutal rape-murders in the area. Nelson was born a few years after Jane’s death, and the narrative is suffused with the long shadow her murder cast over both the family and her psyche.

The world is ours, but we walk in it unnoticed.
— Maggie Nelson

nelson explores the nature of this haunting incident through a collage of poetry, prose, and documentary sources, including newspapers, related "true crime" books, and fragments from Jane’s own diaries written, which makes this tale much bigger and more unique than it may have been as a simple true crime book. the book leads the reader, being part a memoir and true crime piece, to deeper questions about girlhood, empathy, identification, and the essentially unknowable aspects of another’s life and death.

this book expands the notion of what poetry can do, what kind of stories it can tell, and how it can tell them.

How people are often merciless
on those they love the most
— Maggie nelson

reading this, it had me deeply engaged throughout. you lot know i love poetry and it was easily enjoyable for me when it came to reading jane’s diary entries. I was drawn into the life of jane and her aunt, not to mention how intrigued true crime gets me. i heard her later work, Red Parts, is the piece in which, many years after the crime, a man is arrested and tried for it. i will definitely get my hands on it when i get to. all in all, i am drawn for this specific piece of work is a huge mystery, and i am always drawn by mystery of lives cut short, the mystery held by any other human.

As if keening on your knees
were somehow obscene

As if there were a control
so marvelous

you could teach it
to eat pain.
— maggie nelson