Driving Jane by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Published in The Harvard Advocate, Spring 1999We drove. I sat on my mother’s lap in the driver’s seat and steered while she did the pedals, keeping us at 15 mph. She held her hands an inch away from the steering wheel, hovering, in case I overestimated one of the turns on our twisted road in Los Trencos, California. It was just the two of us, my mom and me – so nobody told her she was crazy. My mother knew: at five I was coordinated enough to steer the car.In my aunt Mona Simpson’s book, A Regular Guy, a girl named Jane also drives. Her impoverished mother, Mary di Natali, sends her to find Jane’s rich father, Tom Owens.
I didn’t read the book for two years. Mona sent me the manuscript before publication, and asked me to read it over. I expected it to be a series of conversations from a cocktail party, an idea I remembered her telling me about years before. She told me that I was to tell her if I thought she should change anything. I was honored. After reading only a few pages, it was clear that the book was about something different—but I only read so much then, and I only asked Mona to change a few details. I was intimidated to ask her to change more. Who was I to tell an accomplished writer what to do? Her first two books, Anywhere But Here and The Lost Father earned her literary fame—her work has been translated into 14 languages. She is the recipient of Whiting writer’s award and a Guggenheim grant. She was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. Yet, in the first few pages, I was confronted with my family, my anecdotes, my things, my thoughts, myself in the character Jane. And sandwiched between the truths was invention—lies to me, made more evident because of their dangerous proximity to the truth. Less than the uncanny resemblance between Jane and me, it is the mixture of fact and invention that grates. Jane is me and not me. Jane and I are playing tug-o-war; I am truth, Jane is lies, the rope is fiction.