News and Reviews
An interview on Donise Sheppard's blog about my story "Dancing in the Dark" in the anthology A Contract of Words published by Scout Media.
A Review on Amazon UK
4.0 out of 5 starsEarth as it Is - John Whitman Reviews
4 March 2018
Earth as it is is the first book I'm reviewing and I've seen praise for the authors work in between recieving the book and reading it. I had high expectations and Jan Maher did not disappoint in any regard.
The book tells the genuinely touching and heartfelt story of a man, who while we may not share his inclinations as a crossdresser, we can immediately relate to on a human level. Our main character, Charlie Bader, struggles, as so many of us struggle, to find his way in the world and struggles to be understood for who he really is. It's often said that the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about and Maher captures this absolutely masterfully. She balances Charlie's inner struggles with his crossdressing desires, his personal affections and his wants and needs in a way that any reader can empathise with and in a way that makes you question how you too would deal with them. The relationships and situations are exceptionally well developed and I admit no shame to tearing up several times into the story, particularly in the sections regarding Charlie and his sister and a later character and her mother and father. I'm sure I wouldn't be alone in that regard as Maher manages to make these people feel real with only a relatively short amount of words.
I'm hard pressed to find issues with the story and most of the issues I can find are mostly nitpicks with information rather than anything wrong with the story itself. At one point conflict in Belgium is referred to as 'The Eastern Front' rather than 'The Western Front as it was.' and some people anachronistically treat Hitler with the modern viewpoint of History's greatest monster rather than simply 'The enemy' as he would have been seen around the period of Pearl Harbour as the full extent of the holocaust would not have been common knowledge yet to my own memory. These are minor issues though and in no way detract from the story as a whole.
A minor problem with the storytelling as a whole for me personally is with the fact the story takes place over large time jumps. Obviously this is necessary as it would make the book exceptionally long to cover every event of Charlie/Charlene's life, but it gets jarring when characters you've never heard of are introduced all of a sudden and disappear just as fast. There were one or two times where I had to stop and think if I knew who the characters were as I'd had no introduction to them at all and so found my ability to care about their problems suffered in this regard. I was occasionally in the position where I had to consider a situation to be horrible by my knowledge of that situation, rather than any link to the character. This is a real shame as with Maher's brilliant ability to bring characters to life, I'm sure these moments would have been even bigger gut punches than they were.
Aside from this, the only major issue that does detract from the story as a whole in my opinion is the decision to reveal Charlie/Charlene's death in the first chapter. This, in my opinion, robs some of the punch in the gut that could have been achieved by putting it at the end as there are several scenes where you can't hope for a good life for Charlie/Charlene after the story concludes as you know he doesn't have much time left to live, relatively speaking. This was rather disappointing to me as a reader and I constantly thought back to it whilst I was reading as to how so many events would be more powerful if I didn't know he'd not survive till the end of the book and whilst his death and funeral is powerful, I'm not sold on it being in the prologue. Knowing the main character is going to die in the book put somehwat of a downer knowing he'd die at the end.
But then again, is that not life, knowing it's one day going to close? And Earth as it is is nothing if not the tale of a very extraordinary life. Among her other talents, and they are many, Jan Maher manages to capture something that too few people seem to realise - simply telling the story of someone's life can be endlessly fascinating. There are no heroes in this story. No villains, no grand scheme to unravel and no world ending plots to foil. And there didn't need to be. Maher's story is something deeper, something stronger and something more quintessentially human. It's the struggle for identity. The fight with society and with oneself to be comfortable in your own skin. To know who you are and what you are and to be okay with it. There are many ways in which Charlie Bader is different from us, but he also IS us. Whether as Charlie Bader or Charlene Bader we feel the struggles, we feel the triumphs and we feel the losses. This book made me care for Charlie Bader and the people around him and made me want to see them happy, even knowing the ending. I can whole heartedly tell you that you will care for the main characters too.
Maher delivers an incredibly deep, thought provoking tale that is both genuinely moving and heart warmingly charming in less space than some take to set up their plot. She's an excellent writer and Earth as it is is what I hope to be the first in a long line of her works to read and I couldn't give it any less than an 8/10.