It Really Is The Little Things: Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny


Full disclosure:I’m going to fangirl here a bit, for two reasons. One, I’ve met Katherine Heiny and had the pleasure of joining her for a pre-author’s talk dinner when she was doing press for the fabulous “Standard Deviation.”

And two, “Early Morning Riser” strikes a deeply personal chord that I understand not everyone will get entirely. That’s OK. You’ll still find reasons to love it that are different than mine.

Just read it.

As with her first novel, Heiny once again tackles the family dynamic and its ability to morph beyond stereotypes. In this case, readers are invited into the Boyne City, Michigan, world of Jane, a 26-year-old (back in 2002) elementary school teacher. Having just moved to town, she quickly falls for Duncan, a 40-something carpenter/restoration expert and local Lothario.

Jane is in love, and it appears Duncan loves her, but when she realizes that marriage really isn’t in Duncan’s plans for the future, she understands there isn’t a future for her there and moves on.

But the path to true love rarely is that straight forward, is it?

Nearly all of Heiny’s characters come with emotional baggage of some sort — for Jane, a difficult relationship with her mother is just the start. For Duncan, it’s an ex-wife and his unrelenting affability that provide cover for his emotional challenges.

And then there’s Jimmy, and with it, the reason I cried multiple times reading this book.

I have my own Jimmy. Or at least, something close to Jimmy, in my oldest child.

In the book, Jimmy is the kid (not really a kid anymore, a young man) that everyone knows and watches out for. On the spectrum, incredibly sweet and often misunderstood, Jimmy lives with his mother and works for Duncan. When an unexpected tragedy forces the issue, Jane suddenly finds herself playing the role Jimmy’s mother once did, and all the stress, all the anxiety, all the despair at what is instead of what could have been that Jane feels? I feel all of that. In my bones.

“It had surprised Jane at first, the things Jimmy didn’t know … He didn’t know the name of his doctor … didn’t know what kind of insurance he had, nor did he understand the concept of a co-pay. He had a vague idea of which over-the-counter medications were for pain, diarrhea or cold and allergy symptoms, but Jane didn’t trust him to follow the directions for using them … he didn’t know how to check the batteries in a smoke detector, nor was he aware of the dangers of frayed electric cords …he knew how to change a lightbulb but did not know what kinds of lightbulbs to buy … or the difference between gas and electric, or colors and whites.”

(Honestly, that whole section is heartbreaking, but I truncated it because to type it is like PTSD. And the Willard Williams saga is exactly why I could easily qualify for a medical marijuana card for generalized anxiety. It’s that bullshit that absolutely keeps me up at night worrying.)

And, my god, when people take advantage of Jimmy? Or break his heart? Like a knife to the heart. Because I’ve been there. It is awful. All Jimmy wants is to have friends. Like everyone else. And to love. Like everyone else.

Ultimately, it’s through Jimmy that Janes reconciles what she thinks she wants with what she has, and discovers that a joyful life doesn’t have to be grand, isn’t pain-free, and comes with the understanding that what’s easy for many can be hard-fought for some. (Don’t worry, Patrice, I can’t do a cartwheel, either.)

And she discovers a feeling that trumps anxiety. Love. Love, love, love. I am so happy that Jane found her way through and it inspires me to do the same.

Really, just outstanding. There’s just a ton of good books out there this summer, but Early Morning Riser should not be shuffled to the back of the deck. Especially for my northern Michigan friends, who’ll enjoy being able to visualize the settings. Don’t pass it up.

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