Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
By Robin Maxwell
Review by David Nikithser
”Well, I’ve never told this in its entirety. The academics don’t wish to hear it. But perhaps your ‘pulp fiction’ readers will. I can tell you it’s a story of our world — a true story, one that will rival your John Carter of Mars.”
“Is it about you?”
“A good part of it is.”
It’s 1905. Cambridge University has admitted its first female student, the daughter of a prominent professor. When her father—her hero and her idol—is offered a chance to join a handsome but mysterious explorer on a journey that could reveal the find of a lifetime, Jane Porter begs him to go along and ends up finding treasures, both physical and emotional—including the enigmatic “ape-man” who could be her very own “Missing Link.”
As the husband of the Editrix Rex of Bookshelf Bombshells, I find myself confronted with countless books strewn about our home. When piling up yet another stack for sorting, one caught my eye—specifically, the boldfaced word “TARZAN” on the cover. Hey, I’m a guy; I like adventure stories. I read my share of Tarzan comics and loved the Indiana Jones movies as much as the next guy; maybe this book might be interesting.
“If you read it, you’re gonna review it,” Madame Rex demanded. “A guy’s perspective on that one might be nice. A Tarzan story through Jane’s eyes.”
What I ended up finding was really two separate books wrapped in an adventure story well worthy of Edgar Rice Burroughs—the author of the now century-old original Tarzan stories and whose “real-life” meeting with Jane frames the story in the context of her relating the story of meeting Burrough’s fabled Lord of the Apes.
The two stories are presented in a Tarantino-esque style of parallel narrative and plot-within-plot. We are introduced to Jane Porter, budding paleoanthropologist and self-confessed “tomboy” who wishes to be more like her adventurer father than the demure debutante her mother sees as more befitting the daughter of such an esteemed intellectual, the cupboard full of pickled oddities and vivisected specimens notwithstanding. This story segues back-and-forth with the tale of Tarzan and Jane, told in a style befitting the most bodice-ripping of period romance novels.
Jane seems the most feminine when describing her feral companion and their interactions. While the adventure story itself is told in a very intellectual, action-oriented style befitting Burroughs himself, the exposition involving Tarzan is sensual in the utmost. And when you’re a guy like me, who blushes at a bathing suit hung on a neighbor’s clothesline, getting through those pages was pretty taxing. However, I can now see how the parallel storytelling helps reveal the overall theme of Maxwell’s efforts—Jane is a story of “missing links.” We have Jane, the intellectual, the link between the old-world sensibility of male-dominated scientific study and the modern-day integrated world of academic endeavor. We have Tarzan, the “wild man,” the link between Jane’s adventurous ambitions and her own more visceral, feminine desires. And we have Ral Carnath, the antagonist every good adventure story needs (who is Indy without Belloq?) and Tarzan’s polar opposite; Carnath is the darker side of Jane’s link between mind and body.
In the final climactic act, the two stories come together and all the “missing links” suddenly find each other. And, well … I was a bit disappointed. Without spoiling too much, it felt like Maxwell tried to match the intimately-detailed exposition in the “romance” sections of the book with an over-the-top “adventure” conclusion—to the point where I found myself wondering if she doesn’t have the storyboards hidden in her writing desk in anticipation of Hollywood’s inevitable call.
I was with her right until the end. The individual stories kept me interested and curious, and Maxwell’s writing carries a pace that encourages page-turning. But when the time came to marry the intellectual with the visceral, she fell just short of finding the perfect link. Perhaps Jane will have more luck finding it on her next adventure.
Borrow It: It’s an exciting adventure story! It’s a sexy romance novel! It’s a thoughtful coming-of-age tale! Unless you’re a reader who enjoys all these genres, check it out from the library first to see if you’ll come back to it.
Jane – The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
A Tor Book
$25.99 (Hardcover), $14.99 (Paperback), 320 pages