I’d heard a lot of recommendations for this book and picking it up was happily expecting a fairly light, cheerful read. And in many ways it is. What makes Early Morning Riser particularly worth reading is the warm humour that runs through the story, and the character of Jane who is a bit of a battler.
Jane teaches a Grade 2 class in the small town of Boyne City, where everyone knows everyone. Maybe it’s the size of the town but it’s astonishing for Jane to discover her new boyfriend, Duncan, seems to have slept with most of the local women. And then there’s her mother. Fortunately Mom lives a three hour drive away, because she’s such a negative person, never stopping to think first before speaking her mind. Dating Duncan also seems to mean the presence of Aggie, Duncan’s ex-wife, who is at all the social get-togethers the new couple are invited to.
It’s easy for Jane to feel a little jealous of Aggie, and this niggles its way through a lot of the book, which takes place over seventeen years. Aggie has a lush, peachy beauty, is the most amazing cook and knows all about what’s going on in the town due to her job in real estate. So even though she has been divorced from Duncan for ten years and is happily married to Gary, a dull, grey, unsociable man, it still galls Jane when Aggie is on the scene. She’s also a reminder that Duncan and marriage just don’t go together.
“Does Gary have to come too?”
“You know as well as I do that Gary doesn’t like to be alone after dark,” Duncan said. “He says the toilet whispers.”
As well as Jane’s good friend Frieda – an endlessly positive, mandolin-playing woman destined, it seems, to be forever single – there’s Jimmy. Much of what happens in the story involves Jimmy. Around Duncan’s age, Jimmy still lives with his elderly mother and hasn’t the IQ to manage life on his own. He turns up to work at Duncan’s wood-turning workshop but is there more for company than usefulness. Jane feels remorse for events that leave Jimmy on his own and much of the ensuing decisions she makes are to do with her guilt and making amends.
The story meanders through the years and the ins and outs of Jane’s and Duncan’s relationship. It’s a quiet little read about small-town life and the reasoning behind people’s big decisions and all the little messes they get themselves into. I loved the humour and found myself chuckling as I read. Heiny does kids really well and Jane’s interactions with her class are hilarious.
The natural, warm-hearted writing, the quirky characters as well as Heinz’s understanding of what makes people tick reminded me a little of Anne Tyler’s books – so of course I was going to enjoy this. Though I was occasionally put off by the little bits of popular wisdom doled out as Jane makes this or that realisation. Early Morning Riser was a pleasant break from some more serious reading and gets three and a half out five stars from me.