“This was the burden Charlie Bader was unable to lay down: his need for softness.” In one quiet sentence, Jan Maher captures the heart of Earth As It Is, a richly layered novel about one person’s journey across time, place, and gender to find softness, community, and love.
In the hands of a lesser writer, a novel about a cross-dressing man living as a woman could become shallow and sensationalist, but not in Maher’s. Maher’s understanding and empathy for the honest complexity of individuals is a gift both to her characters and her readers.
Maher constructs her novel in such a way so that when Charlie Bader moves to Heaven, Indiana, as Charlene, readers know Charlie’s history but Heaven’s residents do not. To them, Charlene is just Charlene, the hairdresser who shampoos, cuts, and perms the hair of Heaven’s women even as she hears and holds in confidence their stories and secrets. Charlene is a woman to be trusted, and so they do, to the benefit of the whole community.
Earth As It Is reminds readers that Earth truly is as it is, woven through with heartache, longing, secrets, love, sacred trust, softness, and a desire to be in every moment one’s best and truest self.