When conjuring up an image of a history professor, most people’s conceptions take the shape of a dusty old man dictating history dryly to his bored class, but Taylor Thatcher—and certainly the author as well—has an emotional tie to the past. Rather than simply finding the facts, dates, and stories fascinating, he has an introspective relationship with history, connecting with the people and the personal challenges they faced regarding family, science, and religion. Digging deep into the root of the human individuality in the context of culture by exploring Native American and ancient Mexican anthropology, as well as the pilgrims who settled on the East Coast, Wheelwright weaves a cultural tapestry of an individual’s relationship with nature. The family aspect—though Taylor’s family has an unusual genetic dynamic, his father marrying his late wife’s twin sister to conceive his younger brother—illuminates the human capacity for forgiveness and respect for one’s heritage.
With artistry, the language of As It Is on Earth is rich and intimate, though short, clipped sentences—which are meant to mirror Taylor’s introspective voice but occasionally border on pretentiousness—often slow the story down, the slowness allows the reader to savor the text rather than get bored of it. The characters are splendidly drawn, Taylor’s thoughtfulness and sensitivity deep; much of the story necessarily takes place in Taylor’s memory, leaving the reader wanting further nourishment concerning his relationships with his family in the “present day” of the narrative.
The natural setting and luxurious history are beautifully crafted, the territory of the novel arguably the strongest aspect. Atmospheres of an archaeological trip to the Yucatan, a childhood spent on a farm in New England, and even a professor’s office setting give this book a heart bent on rediscovery and not a simple knowledge of the past so much as an understanding of it and its effects on the present human condition.