There were many moments in Early Morning Riser that made me laugh out loud in recognition. An episode where the main character, Jane, coaxes a wailing child to the car with marshmallows and milk after ‘a temper tantrum so severe that it might have qualified as a psychotic break’ so precisely pinpoints the absurdity of life with small children that it is hard to know whether to laugh or wince. ‘Patrice took a sip and yelled, Kalt! Apparently she had returned from psychosis speaking German.’
Yet Katherine Heiny’s new novel isn’t so much about parenting or marriage (a common target of her merciless yet affectionate wit) as it is a deceptively laidback meditation on everyday life in general: what ordinary days look like, and how they roll into weeks and months and years and a life, with so much introspection and yet so much obliviousness too.
We first meet Jane, a primary school teacher, in 2002, when she is 26 and has locked herself out of her new house in Boyne City, Michigan. She meets Duncan, a charming locksmith/carpenter who has slept with almost every woman in the state, and after unlocking her door, the two talk. Jane makes an omelette: ‘This was on a Friday, and neither Jane nor Duncan left the house until Monday morning, when Jane had to go to school.’
Time passes both swiftly and slowly. A cast of characters arrives — Aggie, Duncan’s supercilious ex-wife; Jimmy, his sweet and developmentally challenged proxy brother; Freida, Jane’s lamentably single friend — and they do amusing things. Somewhere, between anecdotes and life-altering tragedies, decades go by.