A lot of pre-publication crowded into my Twitter bunch around Katherine Heiny’s early morning Riser, which so often leads to disappointment, but something in his blurb made me think he was going to keep that promise, so I raised my hand for a copy. In a small American town that has always been a point of attraction for me, it’s Jane who meets the handsome Duncan as she locks herself out of the house in her pajamas.
The conversation was like apple dumplings, perfectly crimped and sealed at the edges. Jane couldn’t get in.Jane is the new teacher at Boyne City School. She loves to visit the local thrift store, customize the clothes she finds there, even if she never does them quite right, and often lights up trinkets that she is sure to add style to her home. Duncan is the furniture restorer with a background in the locksmith who answers her call for help, a nice and laid back Company. These two seem made for each other, according to Jane, and they slip into a relationship she hopes will turn romantic. There’s a fly in the ointment: Duncan seems to have slept with almost every woman in Boyne City and beyond.
Jane is constantly confronted by one of Duncan’s exes, an endless source of speculation when he is not with her, no less his beautiful ex-wife, with whom Duncan continued to sleep even after his marriage to the very strange Gary. Duncan makes no secret of his intention to never remarry, but Jane is unfazed. In the seventeen years that Heiny’s novel covers, Jane will continue to yearn for romantic love – but not always for herself-to shoulder a burden of guilt that leads to more happiness than she hoped, and will eventually experience a joyful and silent revelation.
Sometimes, when Duncan has been talking about Wood all evening, or table legs, or the art of modern woodworking in general, Jane thinks to herself that if they were married, she would want to finish her own husband.
I left this summary as sketchy as possible while giving a taste of this beautiful, funny and engaging novel. So much joy brought me the little tremors that lead Jane’s life in a different direction. Heiny combines Anne Tyler’s acute social observation with a pleasantly intelligent banter. Her often quirky characters are lovingly portrayed, especially Jane, from whose sometimes confused point of view the story is told. Boyne City is elegantly drawn, the kind of place where the bowl bought at the local thrift store with an artistic Arrangement of dried flowers turns out to be a wedding gift for one of his guests, now annulment. I loved it. Unpretentious, but very entertaining, this is the perfect novel to get lost in difficult times, and the ending is a joy.