Locking herself out of her home, new-in-town second-grade-teacher Jane calls for a locksmith. When Duncan shows up, he not only finds a quick and easy way into Jane’s house but also her life.
From their first weekend together, Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser chronicles the ups, downs, and everything in between Jane and Duncan’s relationship and the community they build in the small town of Boyne City, Michigan. Checking in and out every few years, Heiny gives us brief insights into Jane’s world and the changes (or lack thereof) within it.
The novel is a remarkably low stake one in the best possible way. While the decisions Jane faces are momentous ones, often brought about by the slings and arrows of life, there aren’t any stakes like saving all of civilization as we know it. Instead, there’s Jane’s coming to grips with just who Duncan and is what he brings to the table as a romantic partner and friend. (At one point, Jane dumps Duncan because she realizes he has little interest in getting married again).
And yet, I couldn’t help but become invested in Jane and the cast around her over the course of this novel. The episodic nature helps a great deal and Heiny rarely leaves out detail for too long when jumping from one episode to the next. An early episode finds Jane ready to marry someone else until a tragedy strikes her community and we jump forward in time. Heiny teases the reader just long enough about whether or not Jane went through the wedding without feeling like she’s withholding for the sake of withholding.
Over the course of this story, it’s easy to become invested in Jane, Duncan, and the quirky cast surrounding them. Late in the story, when Jane worries that Duncan might be getting too close to his ex-wife while attending a funeral and their high school reunion, I couldn’t help but feel angry at Duncan for his possible betrayal and hopeful that he wouldn’t or couldn’t be doing what Jane suspects of him. Again, it’s low stakes (unless you’re Jane, and then it’s a hugely emotional stake!) but by this point, I was so invested in Jane and company that I found myself caring about them as if they were real people instead of characters in a novel.
In fact, the last episode finds Jane and company in 2019 and I’ve spent a couple of days since then wondering how Jane and her crew responded to the pandemic and what impact it had on their lives.
This is the best endorsement for Early Morning Riser that I can think of — the wanting to spend more time and see what the characters are still doing today. And yet, I didn’t walk away feeling like the book was unsatisfying. It just creates such a relationship with these characters that you wouldn’t mind spending a few more pages with them.
A favorite novel I’ve read this year.