"The funniest novel of the year... You have to pay attention to a book like Heiny’s... Sweetly sardonic... Delightful."
The Washington Post
"The heroine of Katherine Heiny''s buoyant new novel,
Early Morning Riser, is a young second grade teacher named Jane who lives in Boyne City, Mich. On the very first page of the novel, Jane locks herself out of her house, calls a locksmith, and winds up spending the night and, eventually, her life with him… Heiny writes in a simple droll style about ordinary people who are often being less than their best selves… [A] literary descendant of Jane Austen, sharing Austen''s essentially comic world view."
"Katherine Heiny shows readers how to pay attention to the little things... Jane loves Duncan. But should she? Duncan is a handsome and friendly woodworker who moonlights as a locksmith in small-town Boyne City, Iowa. He’s the guy everybody knows, wink-wink… Fortunately, Duncan is more complicated than that, as is everyone else in Katherine Heiny’s quiet whirlwind of a novel... At its heart, this is a serious story full of lightness."
The New York Times Book Review
Early Morning Riser, which unfolds episodically over a period of 17 years, has the makings of a witty romantic comedy that evokes the work of Laurie Colwin... Spot-on descriptions and sharp observations about marriage... Flat-out wonderful—sharp and funny and melancholic in equal measure."
The Wall Street Journal
"The romance of this wry novel lies in the community Jane creates around her.”
"A heartwarming novel about the chaos of relationships."
Standard Deviation was one of my favorite books of the last decade, and
Early Morning Riser contains the same wit, tenderness and razor sharp observations about modern relationships. I loved it."
—JoJo Moyes, author of
Me Before You
"Early Morning Riser is a joy of a novel. Beautiful, poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. It''s the kind of book you''ll have no choice but to stay up reading all night, and then you''ll be sad when you''ve run out of pages. Katherine Heiny''s voice is unlike anyone else''s, and it''s just what the world needs now."
—J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of
Friends and Strangers
"Warm, witty, touching - and frequently hilarious."
—David Nicholls, author of
Early Morning Riser is a charming, witty and heartwarming novel about life and love in a small town that is destined to improve your mood and restore your faith in humankind. Katherine Heiny — who has long been a personal favorite writer of mine — is at the height of her storytelling powers. Every sentence is a treat!”
—Elin Hilderbrand, bestselling author of
"Katherine Heiny is as warm and moving as Anne Tyler at her best, as funny as David Sedaris at his most hilarious, and one of the truly original voices in current fiction. Her wonderful second novel is a much-needed reminder that no matter how flawed, foolish, and downright annoying people can be, they’re still capable of immense kindness and outrageously unselfish love. Be forewarned: reading
Early Morning Riser could make you believe we’re not necessarily all doomed."
—Stephen McCauley, author of
"Glorious. I love how it evokes the rhythm of life in all its joy and ordinariness and chaos. I loved the dialogue, the relationships. I love the one-liners, the humour, the gorgeous detail, the food, the innermost thoughts, and the love."
—Nina Stibbe, author of
Reasons to Be Cheerful
Early Morning Riser is wise, sad and barkingly funny. Katherine Heiny writes brilliantly about what we mean by the word ''family'' and her novel is loving without being soppy and warm without being cozy—I didn''t want it to end."
—Lissa Evans, author of
"Katherine Heiny’s books feel like spending time with a smart, funny and beloved friend who always has a million interesting things to talk about but always wants to know about you, too. She is a charming and insightful and unique writer and
Early Morning Riser is every bit as good as Standard Deviation, if not better.”
—Lisa Jewell, author of
The Family Upstairs
“Gorgeous. Very, very funny in a knowing wry way but so tender, so beautiful. I loved all the characters.”
—Marian Keyes, author of
"[A] heartfelt novel about making your own life when plans don’t turn out as expected."
New York Post
"Charming, hilarious... [This] one-of-a-kind story, featuring a cast of quirky characters, is a surefire literary mood boost with a heartwarming reminder of the many ways love appears in our lives."
"Few writers so memorably capture the quirky interior lives of their characters as Heiny... She returns to form with
Early Morning Riser, a wry and wise novel about the intertwined romantic lives of the residents of a small Michigan town... Heiny soars in her offbeat examination of small-town baggage and found families."
"The perfect pick me-up, filled to the brim with lovable eccentrics and delightful oddballs."
"Nothing about this book is expected... a splendidly comical tale of an unconventional family that celebrates and skirts disaster together."
New Canaan Advertiser
“Katherine Heiny’s latest romance-adjacent work of literary fiction has been compared to Jane Austen’s novels… An entirely unexpected ensemble cast of characters in the throes and on the edge of love.”
"A ‘modern Jane Austen''... [Heiny] unites stylistic verve with laugh-out-loud humor, and is a perfect balance of literary and accessible.. I''d read the back of a cereal box if it was written by Katherine Heiny."
"Readers will desperately want to be a part of the unconventional family of friends at the center of Heiny''s novel, which has more charm than any memory-filled bracelet... Bittersweet and bitterly funny."
"There are some rare books that feel like nibbling on the prettiest, most delicious biscuit. It’s only when you finish them, eking out the last few chapters because you don’t want to waste a single precious crumb, that you realise the biscuit was in fact a protein-packed three-course meal, and an exceptionally satisfying one — nourishment for life...
Early Morning Riser is about the nature of all kinds of love, about the deep pleasures and frequent exasperations of small-town life, about the joys and frustrations of families and domesticity, and about what, in the end, constitutes happiness. It is such a rich novel, each character neon-vivid and exquisitely drawn...
Early Morning Riser is weighty, tender, astute, more funny than I know how to describe and, in places, profoundly sad — Heiny can break your heart in one sentence. It takes the tiny stuff of everyday life and makes it big and meaningful. Quiet things become loud. You put the book down and feel glad to be alive."
The Sunday Times (UK)
"The novel takes on big questions: the idea of what happiness looks like, and what “enough” feels like, and how you can or can’t help loving who you love. It’s also funny, with several characters... that somehow both serve as punch lines but also genuinely enrich the plot."
"If a handful of characters were transported from Anne Tyler’s Baltimore to tiny Boyne City, Michigan, they might act a bit like the ones Katherine Heiny has gathered in
Early Morning Riser. But Heiny’s gentle exploration of how we tiptoe and often stumble through the minefield of love is both fresh and consistently entertaining... Though she mostly goes easy on her quirky creations, Heiny is unfailingly honest and never at a loss for a witty observation...
Early Morning Riser is an amiable and observant novel with perfect pitch and plenty of grace notes along the way."
"Engrossing, tender... Accompanying Jane’s wavering inner journey is an exploration of her various involvements, whether intended or not, with all kinds of colorful individuals in her town and the surrounding area. With sharply drawn portraits and acerbic wit, Heiny captures emotions, bonds,revelations, and heartbreak in this tale of unconventional interactions."
"This touching and fizzy comic novel... makes the ordinary extraordinary. A deep awareness of the ways the potential for tragedy lies just beneath the surface of small-town life gives the proceedings a sense of gravity and holds the humor in perfect balance. This is a winner."
Publishers Weekly, starred
"More than a little contagious hilarity... Laugh-out-loud scenes seamlessly flow into deep consideration of what it means to be a family and the power of accepting one another, eccentricities and all. This irresistible delight is a much-needed balm during these unnerving times."
Library Journal, starred
"The author of
Single, Carefree, Mellow (2015) and
Standard Deviation (2017) brings us new characters to fall in love with in this novel about love, family, and community. It’s easy to adore the characters Heiny conjures in her novels and short stories. They tend to be quirky and smart, caring and passionate... Heiny’s book finds beauty and humor in connection and community, family and friendship, and the way love can develop and deepen over time. A heartwarming novel with a small-town vibe that sparkles like wine sipped with friends under backyard fairy lights."
“A warm-hearted tribute to small town living, with all its attendant exasperations… Witty, exuberant… Heiny clearly writes with a great deal of love for her characters and location, but also offers real insight into the ways in which accidental intimacy can lead to a deeper and truer understanding of ourselves.”
Jane met Duncan a month after she moved to Boyne City. She had locked herself out of her house and had had to ask a neighbor to call a locksmith. She was sitting on her front steps in the early twilight wearing her pajamas—she taught second grade and it was Pajama Day—when Duncan drove up in a rust-spotted white van.
“Whoa,” he said when he saw her. “Exactly how long have you been waiting?”
He was in his early forties, with slightly shaggy auburn hair and a full moustache. His eyes were brown with amber flecks, and his features were so symmetrical that his face looked as though it could have been cut from a piece of paper folded in half. He was of medium height, medium build, wearing nothing more distinctive than jeans and a denim shirt, yet he seemed to stand out vividly, like the subject of a photo with a blurred background. To Jane he looked like the Brawny paper towel man, and no less handsome.
“Only about twenty minutes,” she said. She stood up and gestured at her front door. “I’m afraid you may have to drill the lock out.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Duncan said. “I bet we can find another way in. Folks always think their houses are totally safe because they have a couple locks on the front door, and then they call me and it turns out they’ve been sleeping with a bedroom window open for half a year. Let’s take a walk around.”
They circled the house slowly. It was a pretty little one-story house, white with black shutters. Duncan kept stopping to look in the flower beds. “It’s also possible the previous owners left a key in a false rock or some such.”
At the back of the house, Duncan pointed to the bathroom window. “Here’s what I’m talking about. I could pop the screen off there and climb right in if the window’s not locked.”
“Okay,” Jane said meekly.
He slid the end of a screwdriver under the edge of the screen, and it popped loose with alarming ease. Duncan caught it with one hand. “Not much crime around here,” he said to Jane, “but last year Shirlene Talbot woke up to find a man making himself a ham sandwich in her kitchen. He was pretty harmless—turned out he was the Masseys’ houseguest and was too drunk to remember which house they lived in. Still, I’d hate for that to happen to you.”
He dragged Jane’s garbage can over, climbed on top of it, and pushed the window open. He ducked inside, and a minute later, he opened the front door and called out to her.
Jane thanked him and asked him to stay for supper. She had never spontaneously invited a man to stay for supper before but she was grateful he hadn’t charged her anything. Also, she hadn’t had a real conversation with a man since she’d moved here, unless you counted the elderly man at Glen’s Market who had asked her to help him find his car.
She was twenty-six years old, tall and slender, with dark blond hair that looked good in a ponytail, and she didn’t need much makeup. That last part was fortunate because she rarely wore any. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were naturally dark despite the light color of her hair, and her pale blue eyes were almond-shaped, with slightly hooded lids that made eyeshadow pointless and hard to apply. (This had baffled Jane in her teen years when she followed step-by-step eyeshadow tutorials in magazines—wait, where was the crease of her eyelid? Why did she look exactly the same afterward?) She had a straight nose and a generous mouth. She was very pretty when she remembered to sit up straight, and pretty enough when she slouched.
During supper—Jane made an omelet and a salad—Duncan told her that he was really a woodworker and specialized in custom-made tables and chairs, but since someone wanted one of those only every once in a while, he also did antique furniture restoration and locksmithing, and that he’d grown up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula, and that he used to be married to a real estate agent named Aggie who could not tell the difference between a smallmouth and largemouth bass. (Jane wasn’t sure if that was just some descriptive detail about Aggie or Duncan’s reason for divorcing her.)
“Where is Aggie now?” she asked.
“Where?” Duncan said. “This time of night, she’s probably home over on Alice Street, I guess.”
“Oh,” Jane said. “I didn’t realize she lived around here.”
“Yeah, nice little house. I mow her lawn still.”
Jane folded her napkin into smaller rectangles. “You must be very close.”
“I don’t know about close.” Duncan took a bite of his omelet. “We’re friendly enough, I guess, seeing as she up and left me for Gary Polnichik at State Farm, and they’ve been together almost ten years now.”
“Why doesn’t Gary mow the lawn?” Jane asked.
“He doesn’t like it, and I don’t mind,” Duncan said. “Plus, he helps me with my taxes.”
Duncan talked a lot. He told Jane that she should buy eggs from the farmers’ market, and that she should never order the clam chowder at Robert’s Restaurant, and that the dentist had a drinking problem but morning appointments were generally okay, and that Bradley Reed up on the corner had a tendency to watch folks with his binoculars if they left their window shades up, and that the olive burger at the Boyne River Inn couldn’t be beat, and later he said, “I’m the luckiest man in Boyne City,” as he pulled Jane’s pajama pants off while she lay back on her sofa.
“But Boyne City is only about two hundred people!” Jane protested.
Duncan looked thoughtful. “Actually, more like three thousand.”
“Still, you’re supposed to say in the universe,” she said.
“How about Northern Michigan?” Duncan ran his hands up the insides of her thighs. “Will that do? I’m the luckiest man in Northern Michigan.”
That was on a Friday, and neither Jane nor Duncan left the house until Monday morning, when Jane had to go to school.
This was only Jane’s third year of teaching. You could say she was still getting the kinks out.
During her first two years of teaching—one in Grand Rapids, one in Battle Creek—she had made the first day of school as fun-filled and exciting as possible: extensive school tour, scavenger hunt, time capsule, extra recess, dance party, LEGOs, working with clay. The result had been that both Jane and her students were hollow-eyed and slack-jawed with fatigue by three thirty, and no one remembered where the bathroom was the next day anyway.
She had finally realized that although second graders were officially entering the third year of schooling (more if they’d gone to preschool), they had clearly wiped all previous school experience from their hard drives over the summer. They had to relearn everything, like stroke patients: how to find their desks, how to form a line, how to walk quietly in the hall, how to keep their hands to themselves, how to grip a pencil, how to hold scissors carefully, how to take off and put on their coats, how to flush the toilet—how to aim for the toilet, in some cases—and to wash their hands afterward.
They had to relearn the rhythm of the school day, too. Some children were still on a summer rock-star schedule and would become suddenly alert about ten in the morning and look around in a slightly startled fashion, as though their minds had just caught up with their bodies. Others for whom naps were a very recent memory (for instance, the day before school started) would grow wobbly-headed and slow-blinking right after lunch and remain that way for at least an hour. Always on the first day, at least three students would turn their heads to the clock at 3:25 and slowly count down the remaining seconds. (Probably more would have done it, but hardly any of them remembered how to tell time.)
This year, Jane had kept the first day of school extremely simple. The only writing materials were chubby three-sided pencils and soft dashed-line writing paper with one-inch lines. The bulletin boards were bare, and she’d turned most of the displays toward the wall or covered them with plain brown paper. (Her classroom looked like the background in a proof-of-life hostage photograph.) She put only plain wooden blocks in the toy chest, no cars or trucks, not the farm animals or the pretend grocery items. The art table was covered in butcher paper and only primary-color crayons were available for drawing. The Library Corner held only board books, nothing longer or more challenging or less familiar than The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
They had begun the day by making nametags (a boy named Tad Berman had raised his hand and asked Jane how to spell his own first name) and storing their gym shoes under their desks. They counted to one hundred by tens, and discussed “greater than” and “less than.” They reviewed the days of the week and the months of the year. (“Just twelve of them?” Tad Berman asked. “Are you sure?”) They read sight words that Jane printed one at a time on the whiteboard, and then Jane read The Gruffalo aloud. After lunch they made “All About Me” posters and sat in a circle to play Jingle Bell Pass, and by the end of the day, her students had emerged from the first day with some semblance of sanity and awareness.
The second day, she uncovered the bulletin boards and added wooden cylinders and triangles to the toy box. (A girl named Alicia Sweet had stared at one of the triangles, frowning, for at least thirty seconds before asking Jane what that shape was called.) Jane unrolled the Peter Rabbit rug in the Library Corner and put the Dr. Seuss books on the shelves. They measured lengths of string and practiced adding ten to any number. They discussed word families and phonetics.
On the third day, Jane turned all the displays so they faced the room and added glue and glitter and ribbon to the Art Table. She hung the “All About Me” posters around on the walls and left work folders on everyone’s desk. Tad Berman was able to identify her by name (two out of three times anyway), and Paul Blankenship, who was the first week’s Attendance Messenger, was gone for only twenty minutes or so when he took the attendance sheet to the school office three doors down (the day before, it had taken him almost an hour). Jane passed out math workbooks and had the students open to the first page. The school year had begun.
And now, only three weeks later, Jane was suffering from such massive sleep deprivation after her weekend with Duncan that she had to show a video during Science while she sat at her desk, trying not to doze off in the darkened room. She showed videos during Health and Social Studies, too. At the end of the day, Kenny Rutledge said that was more screen time than he was allowed in a whole month and that he would need a note to take home to his mother.
Jane did have one friend in Boyne City, Freida Fitzgerald.
Jane and Freida had met at the teachers’ ice cream social at the very beginning of the year (the fact that she went showed how desperate Jane was to meet people). The social was held in the high school media center, which meant everyone had to worry about tripping over electrical cords. Or everyone would have had to worry if anyone had come besides Jane and the other second-grade teacher, Mr. Robicheaux, and the school custodian, who said he was just waiting for everyone to go home so he could lock up.