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.
In this evocation of small-town America, where you get your upper lip waxed by someone’s cousin and every supermarket cashier knows your business, we’re in Anne Tyler country. But Heiny is a more modern, bawdier, messier spirit. Her domesticity still has a libido. Exhausted after a parent-teacher evening, Jane remarks that no one ever thinks: “I’m so tired I just want someone to have sex with me.” To which Duncan replies: “I literally think that all the time.”
Who isn’t in need of a feelgood read these days? Katherine Heiny’s second novel is the perfect antidote to these anxious times, a comfort blanket of a book that charts the lives of ordinary folks in a wise and witty narrative. A central preoccupation is the importance of community, something that has become all the more important in the face of a global pandemic.
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.