Katherine Heiny’s “Early Morning Riser” (Knopf, April 2021) has been described by Kirkus, a book review magazine, as “a heartwarming novel with a small-town vibe that sparkles like wine sipped with friends under backyard fairy lights.” Why do we care? Because Heiny, right, was inspired by her experiences in Boyne City. Kind and funny, the characters and scenes are reminiscent of your favorite quirky neighbor.
Adds well-known and best-selling author Elin Hilderbrand: “Early Morning Riser’ is a charming, witty, and heartwarming novel about life and love in a small town that is destined to improve your mood and restore your faith in humankind. Katherine Heiny — who has long been a personal favorite writer of mine — is at the height of her storytelling powers. Every sentence is a treat!”
A bit about the plot: Jane moves to Boyne City to teach second grade and soon falls head over heels for the local lothario, Duncan, who has seemingly been involved with every woman in town. Somehow, he’s remained friendly with all of them — doing housework, fixing furniture, or mowing lawns long after any fling has ended. Because of this, everyone in Boyne City seems to have an opinion about Jane’s relationship and isn’t shy about voicing it. Duncan comes with his own cast of characters: There’s his ex-wife, Aggie, and her eccentric husband, Gary; and his co-dependent co-worker, Jimmy, who seems to drop by at the most inopportune times. Jane’s mother, meanwhile, is the kind who always knows best. As Jane begins to wonder whether this is the life she really wants, a terrible accident leaves her inextricably tied to Duncan, Jimmy, Aggie, and Gary. The plot thickens and we see Jane with an unconventional family — and maybe the best family she could ask for.
Heiny, who grew up in Midland and now lives in Maryland, owned a house with her husband in Boyne City for 15 years, and says she always hoped to set a book there. Last year, she and her husband sold the house; the movers were packing up around her as she wrote the last pages of “Early Morning Riser.” “It will forever be one of my favorite places,” Heiny says, “and I like to think Jane is still there.”
In the book, Heiny references places around the Boyne area including the Boyne River Inn, Avalanche Mountain in the Avalanche Mountain Preserve, Boyne Mountain Resort, Kilwins, and Robert’s Restaurant. There are several beach scenes, too (Peninsula Beach is specifically referenced).
Some of the author’s favorite memories of the area include ski picnics at Boyne Highlands. “My father used to lug a huge picnic basket filled with a fondue pot with Sterno, cheese, French bread, white wine, and wine glasses to the warming hut at the top so we could have lunch in style,” she says. “I loved that, even though I didn’t like fondue and was too young to drink wine.” Other favorite traditions include going out for ice cream at Kilwins and hiking the trails at Avalanche Mountain Preserve. When she was finishing “Early Morning Riser,” she would write all day and then she and her family would head to a little beach on Lower Lake Drive. “It’s a small beach with one picnic table, and often we were the only people there. We’d sit at the picnic table and watch the sunset. It may be my favorite place in all the world.”