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As It Is On Earth Paperback – September 15, 2012
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One of the deep pleasures in reading Peter Wheelwright s gorgeous debut novel As It Is On Earth comes from the dizzying journey through the constellations of his protagonist s life as he attempts to untangle the Gordian knot of his family legacy. His world is messy and contradictory, saturated with desire and utterly intoxicating; it is a place where ideas about science and art and nature and history combust until secrets are laid bare. As in the best of novels, Wheelwright both broke my heart and gave me great faith in acts of forgiveness and in the tenderness of our hearts. --Lisa Fugard, author of Skinner's Drift
"Unlike his character Miryam, whose photographs of absent bridges depict only the supporting embankments that connect two sides of the earth, Peter Wheelwright, in this rich and moving debut, attempts to fill in those ghostly, empty polarities of space and time that we call family history -- and, in the doing, offers up a bit of America's history, as well. Like a great bridge-builder, Wheelwright connects past and present, choices and consequences, hope and despair, fantasy and reality, all the while, like Miryam's sturdy embankments, remaining anchored firmly into the land. A masterful balancing act; a beautiful, unpretentious, elegiac novel. --Joseph Salvatore, author of To Assume A Pleasing Shape
With a Yankee tap root breaking through layers of granite guilt and miscegenation, Taylor Thatchers' family tree is a challenging climb. From its branches overlooking New England's old farms and old colleges, author Peter Wheelwright peers compassionately at a world inhabited by young survivors of extinct tribes and inherited griefs. Fascinating and absorbing and forgiving. --Meryl Streep
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Author: Peter Wheelwright
The intricate design of a carefully woven tapestry can often tell the story of a person's heritage, history or family from start to finish. Each piece of this perfectly captivating mural on canvas depicts the many generations of a family, their lives, their struggles and their story. Author Peter Wheelwright's tapestry dates back to the Pilgrims and a family from New England whose lives span twelve generations and whose story is so interesting that it allows readers to learn not just about the family he's writing about but about the many places they've lived. The Thatcher family is the focal point or the center of this story and it's their pictures or faces that the author has vividly described and placed within the center of the tapestry. Each of their individual stories told are depicted in the remainder of this magnificent hand-woven fabric that covers an entire wall and tells a story that will touch your heart.
This family lived in Maine and their lives were not that different from many, yet definitely unique in many ways. Taylor Thatcher is our narrator and guide throughout this novel. He's a college professor at the University of Hartford teaching science. But, Taylor's teaching style, his ideas and thoughts are not typical as you learn from the beginning chapters where we meet him as a young child, learn about his relationship with his brother, Bingham and the history behind his birth. Added in is Taylor's relationship with a woman named Esther whose loving but different care for both boys and their antics involving several girls adds some extra spice to the novel. Taylor's personality is quite strong in the sense that he often acts without thinking and yet compensates, as he states himself, by relying on " the cup of my hand to measure how things stand with me and the women I think I love." Taylor begins to tell the reader more about himself on October 5, 1999 where the story continues and we learn more about his teaching career and his fall out with the head of his department and his fear of being let go.
Taylor's younger brother Bin or Bingham is a major influence in his life, but not the way most would think. The sciences fascinate him and the museum he creates in his home calling it Nib's Museum of Geology Zoology and Cosmology would be the envy of any museum curator. But, each time he and Bin are together you get the feeling that there is some underlying secret yet to be revealed, and Taylor feels responsible for him not just because he's his brother but because of some sense of guilt.
Taylor's lectures are both exciting, electrifying and quite unique. His students are enthralled with his methods and enjoy taking his classes even though the head of his department questions his techniques. Student responses about him are positive and although he might be unorthodox in his teaching style his students soar. As the author draws us deeper into his past and his life by relating to the reader facts about his father, a doctor, a cold man who changed after losing his wife. Enveloping himself in the lives of his patients, he divorced himself from his children in more ways than one. Taylor recalls his mother's death as the author paints a picture of a canoeing accident that changed more than just the complexion of his family but his father's life too. Standing by helplessly watching her drown sent him further to seek out the bottle and farther away from his family until he marries her twin sister Rose. What would have been a new start once again ends in tragedy as she dies from diabetes leaving him with a newborn son, Bin, and the need to get someone to care for his sons while he is with his patients. Esther Flournoy Bishop, a Cajun/Indian woman is hired by the father, the Deacon, to take care of the boys and to run the farm. She becomes a mother to both boys in her own way.
Throughout the novel we realize that Taylor is trying to create a picture of his family's history and his position with in it. Reaching his 31st birthday where this story takes hold on Columbus Day 1999, Taylor looks for the answers in his life that have been hidden away for too long. Coming to terms with his mother's death, dealing with a younger brother born on his birthday, Oct 11, the reader realizes that Bin is the total opposite or perhaps the other half of Taylor.
Taylor allows the reader to learn more about his younger years, his problems in school and his friendship with Galen McMoody, getting stoned, and his father putting his foot down. With the help and encouragement of Esther, he decides to attend the University of Hartford in Connecticut. But, Taylor was off base a lot and it took time to correct his mistakes and get back on the right path. He got his undergraduate degree in the Sociology of Engineering Science and a second one in the Science of Social Engineering. After Graduate school, and a doctorate, he shares his own ideas about the space-time continuum and much more. We learn about his father's death, and the birth of Esther's daughter causing the reader to begin to wonder more about the relationship between Esther and the Deacon. A loner for the most part sharing an office with a senior professor, Taylor's enticed to join in some social entertainment, so why not poker like Texas Hold'em which if I might add I just learned how to play and the group playing is quite interesting to say the least.
As he is preparing to moderate a weekend symposium in New London, we learn more about his life: his love with Nicole Robbins, a biologist who he constantly refers to as leaving him; her friend Liberty, his brother Bin and Jemma McMoody their neighbor from Maine. Then the author brings in Miryam, a photographer who brings her photographs of bridge crossings up and down the Connecticut River to Taylor asking if he would help with some of the technical history. Although he's interested in this young girl, he introduces her to Bin. But, as Taylor describes their encounter, her physical appearance which he takes notice of in a graphic and vivid manner, you begin to feel that he's interested in her and not just in her photographs. Calling him about Bin, showing him the pictures of his brother you begin to wonder if Bin was even aware that he was being photographed. His facial expressions, the way he describes them, are almost expressionless and he seems devoid of any knowledge of his surroundings. The way she describes Bin and his actions are almost like a butterfly not wanting to evolve from its cocoon.
There are many people that seek to find the answers to their lives but never do. Some like his brother Bin are happy within their own realities and never pass judgment and takes things as they are. The plot flashes back and forth to many events in Taylor's life and we begin to understand his fears and trepidations revolving around his brother. As he goes on a quest you might say or his own individual journey to find out who he is, he learns more about two Indian tribes, their casinos in Connecticut and we follow the trail or path to the day his life changed and the relationship between the two Indian tribes.
Author Peter Wheelwright's research into the history of New England, the Mexican and American Indian Tribe History is extensive and provides the background for much of this story as well as Bin's love of the stars, religious history and a dramatic ending that binds and brings it all together.
Bin is a complex character with many different sides and although he left his roots, Jemma and his safety net, and Esther he arrives in Hartford, gets work with the state of Connecticut and seems happy. The author relates Bin's relationship with Jemma, the fact that Miryam is close with him, his last day of work, and that Jemma has come to Hartford looking for him. But, who is the child with her and what is their relationship?
The characters in this book are unique in many ways. Taylor, although a college professor, has many different layers that comprise who he really is and you often wonder throughout the story if he's ever going to really define himself. Bin, a kind and yet lost soul after his accident, seems to depend on either Miryam or Jemma to guide him through life, yet his ability to see the world through his unique perspective is compelling. Miryam is a photographer that attracts Taylor's attention, yet he sets her up with Bin. Two men Taylor works closely with, Charles Dunham and William Bent-Wigley, play an integral part in many of the social engagements he gets himself and, in addition to Liberty, William's girlfriend, seem more concerned with the casinos than the college. Nicole is having a child with her new lover, Rafael Villareal who provides even more intrigue to this cast of eclectic characters. The author cleverly weaves within this intricate tapestry the stories of the characters, their relationships, how they met and what brought them to this point in time before the birthday celebration and the secrets about the family are revealed.
What makes this book stand out is the history the author presents about the many Indian tribes, their culture and their rituals when burying bones and bodies. Readers are introduced to The Native-American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act that most might not be familiar with and the understanding of what the Native Americans do to honor their dead.
The secrets about his family are revealed and we learn more about not only his father's past but Esther's too as it links to more than just a child's fate. The secrets are even deeper than you can imagine as Esther reveals more to Taylor about the hidden truth within her family and the secret behind her own paths. The ending will bring everything to light and together as we learn more about the Puritan laws, heritage, the link to the many Indian Tribes, the conference at New London, the incident at Mohegan Sun and the final piece of the tapestry woven at the birthday celebration. One man torn in many places between family, friends, career, history, traditions and finding his own place in this world.
Just what happens and if he remains to take his place with his family you will have to learn for yourself. The stars are amazing and seeing Jupiter and the planets hold so many secrets as Taylor decides whether he will focus on There and Before or decide to know more about the Here and Now.
One powerful novel and one outstanding story told in the voice of one man whose life will change when the tapestry and the final stitch is sewn. Taylor's story does not end, its just beginning, and where he decides to go from here only he knows; it will depend on just how far he wants to see As It Is On Earth, or keep his head focused up in the sky at the stars.
Let's give this book: FIVE STARLIT NIGHTS FILLED WITH GOLDEN STARS
While Taylor lives in the theoretical world, Bin, as he is known, is his opposite. He is a prosaic scientist, interested in the relics of the natural world that tell us of our place here on Earth. Bin and Taylor are half-brothers and cousins. Their father married twin sisters, each of whom died very young after having a son. The two boys were raised by a nurse/housekeeper named Esther. Esther was a strong woman who came to New England from her Louisiana upbringing to escape a violent husband.
Now the boys are grown, and Taylor believes that Bin has lost his way. He thought Bin was set up on the family farm with a strong love with the girl next door, but Bin has unexpectedly left that life. He shows up in the town where Taylor is teaching and is showing signs of strain, such as sleeping on the fire escape. Taylor decides that it is his mission to make Bin's life better and he believes that he has the solution. He has met a woman photographer, Miryam, who he believes can solve all of Bin's issues.
The novel explores the role of family, and how tangled familial relationships can affect all parts of one's life. Taylor cannot move forward in his own life until he resolves the role that family secrets from his childhood have had on his adult life. Wheelwright has created a strong character who seems lost but his love for others is the strength that will save him. This book is recommended for readers interested in books about how families make us who we are as adults, and those interested in how individuals can get unstuck in their lives when they aren't making progress.
Most recent customer reviews
A lost professor muses on the mess he's made of his life and his inability to shake himself free from the burdens of family, tradition, and history.Read more
As It Is On Earth, Peter M. Wheelwright, Fomite Press, September, 2012, 297 pages
I am happy to...Read more