It’s the 1930s in Texas when Charlie Bader comes of age with urges he has struggled with since childhood and does not understand. After his new bride finds him wearing her own sexy lingerie and leaves him in disgust, he tries to move on. His efforts lead him to Chicago, where he stumbles on a community of cross-dressers and begins to attend their secret soirees. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, he volunteers for the army, serving as a dentist and trying once again to leave his obsession with soft clothes behind. Instead, his wartime experiences combined with the army's faulty record-keeping lead to his reappearance in the small town of Heaven, Indiana, as Charlene. There, Charlene opens a beauty shop where Heaven’s women safely share their stories and secrets as she shampoos, clips, curls, and combs their hair. Charlene deftly manages to keep her own story hidden and her sexual desires quiet until she falls in love with a female customer and her life begins to change.
1. Heaven, Indiana 1964
2. Dallas, Texas 1933
3. Chicago, Illinois 1933
4. Indianapolis, Indiana 1938
5. Chicago, 1941
6. Paris, France 1944
7. Belgium, 1944
8. Heaven, 1945
9. Heaven, 1950
10. Heaven, 1952
11. Heaven, 1954
12. Heaven, 1957
13. Heaven, 1960
14. Chicago, 1962
15. Heaven, 1963
16. Heaven, 1964
Book Club Guide
This novel is a strikingly original addition to the rich, burgeoning field of gender studies and is written in a deceptively simple style, never melodramatic but understated, even humble, a plain song as readable and vast as wheat fields grown to the horizon along the great American plains.
author of Macauley's Thumb
This novel is charming, compelling, and wholly absorbing. The writing is precise, unadorned, and, at times, quietly lyrical. At its heart, this is a story about community, identity, and love. While the novel certainly tackles a subject—gender identity—that has been rightfully getting a lot of traction lately in various media, what draws me into this story is the way Maher writes of friendship and love and daily life in this small town in Indiana, Heaven. The tenderness with which Maher renders these characters and this community is compelling and heartrending.
author of Tell Everyone I Said Hi
Maher has that gift, coveted among writers, of entering fully whatever psyche she touches. At once amusing, sensitive, and articulate, she carries us to surprising places—in this case into the heart of a cross-dressing dentist whose humanity we at once recognize as our own.
author of What Do Cowboys Like?
The luminous story of Charlie/Charlene delves into what it means to be a man or a woman—it wraps the reader up in the warm, loving, gossipy, and sometimes uncomfortable world of women in a small town beauty salon. Jan Maher captures the essence of complex, memorable characters and reflects both ordinary and extraordinary lives in mid-20th century America.
author of Moonshadows
This book is an excellent read—the story is so very sweet and poignant. Maher has done a wonderful job showing the nature of true love.
co-founder of Mid-Hudson Transgender Association
Gender diversity is, and has always been, all around - in our families, hometowns, places of worship, workplaces, and communities. Maher's Earth As It Is takes place in a time in which individual, family, and societal possibilities and expectations collide and combine in unexpected ways while friendship, loyalty, and love prevail.
Director, The Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services, Ithaca College
In Earth as It Is, Jan Maher deftly and delicately threads her narrative, the story of a heterosexual cross-dresser seeking a home, through 30 years of American culture. Her novel is deceptively powerful, smooth like the surface of a river that belies the pull beneath it. You slip in, and before you know it you’ve travelled quite a distance and have no interest in leaving. A very rewarding and, at turns, surprising work.
2014 Pushcart Prize Winner for Nonfiction
Charlie Bader’s love of softness and delicacy should be irrelevant to how he is perceived but that’s not the way things are, so Charlie’s got a problem. How he resolves it brings him face to face with major ethical questions we all encounter. When and to whom do we reveal truths about our intimate reality? Why and for whose sake do we keep secrets? And how much comfort and strength do we gain when we discover we are not alone? Visit Heaven, Indiana in Jan Maher's ground-breaking novel and explore these essential questions about identity, authenticity, compromise, and love.
editor of 'Women in the Trees' and 'Between Mothers and Daughters'
A complex and deeply emotional novel which explores a rarely discussed aspect of gender identity in the post-war Midwest. . . . A captivating novel that attempts to bring a softer perspective to gender identity. It is definitelyworth reading.
Historical Novel Society
Maher’s debut is a satisfyingly complex character study exploring gender identity in the postwar Midwest. . . . Maher deftly navigates Charlie/Charlene’s dual identities and vividly captures a complex inner struggle . . . the story is transportive.
Maher’s understated style of character development reveals a rich understanding of her characters and their decisions.
The Islands' Weekly
Jan Maher’s Earth As It Is is a heartfelt story about an extraordinary life. . . . Both loving and heartbreaking, Earth As It Is lends a new perspective to an ongoing dialogue.
A superbly crafted novel by an exceptionally skillful storyteller, Earth As It Is reveals author Jan Maher's genuine flair for a fully engaging originality.
Midwest Book Review
The story is an unusual one, featuring a condition usually ignored in fiction. Deserves a place on library shelves.
A small-town hairdresser is not quite what she seems in this novel of life under cover. . . . In Maher’s tapestry, the unconventional, even subversive, impulses of misfits and “ordinary” folk find a place in a convincing whole.
"In Maher’s tapestry, the unconventional, even subversive, impulses of misfits and "ordinary" folk find a place in a convincing whole. A quietly luminous tale of folksy gender-bending that’s entertaining and authentic."