Was this a product placement for Malört? On Earth as It Is on Television is a quirky, borderline absurdist take on first contact with aliens from the perspective—at least so it seems at first—of ordinary, everyday people. Emily Jane asks us to consider what would happen if aliens show up one day and then leave as abruptly as they came. How would life go on, and how would we all be different? Unfortunately, I can’t say I am all that different having read this book.
The story starts thirty years prior, with a brother and his younger sister driving west to escape her abusive boyfriend and start a new life. Following an accident in a winter storm, we smash cut to the present. From there, Jane follows half a dozen different characters. Alien ships appear mysteriously over the skies of major cities around the world (not just Washington, D.C., thankfully), and then after a few days the ships vanish with no contact or explanation. Each of our viewpoint characters struggle to adjust to the new normal, with some of them discovering that there are actually aliens living among them—closer, even, than they initially thought.
This is a quixotic book, and for a while I didn’t know what to make of it. The beginning is like a suspense novel, with each character’s stories developing separately and an implicit promise that they will converge (which, to be fair, they ultimately do). The middle is more like a Vonnegut novel in both style and story. The final act reminds me most of an ’80s children’s movie about aliens, where the danger is undercut by the knowledge that everything will work out in ninety minutes or less.
There’s definitely something good to this novel. I like how Jane explores different yet equally valid reactions to alien arrival, the way that some people just shut down, others go into overdrive. While the humour wasn’t always my cup of tea (those kids were just annoying, OK?), I appreciate Jane’s attempt at establishing such a voice.
I guess what I’m trying to say, however, is that I don’t think the novel made me feel anything. The plot makes sense (in its own weird way). There are emotional notes for each character that Jane hits. But it’s all very perfunctory, very clinical. The narration is so detached, so much telling rather than showing, that it was hard for me to invest myself in any of the characters. I was curious to know the ending, if you will, but I didn’t care about the ending.
On Earth as It Is on Television has its moments, and for a different audience maybe it is in fact uproariously funny. I appreciate the eARC from NetGalley and Hyperion, but this one was not for me.