Friday, May 26, 2017

Book Review: "Standard Deviation" by Katherine Heiny

It has been a long while since I literally laughed out loud while reading a book, but Katherine Heiny's debut novel, Standard Deviation, had me cracking up more than a few times. (Nothing quite like sitting at the chiropractor laughing to yourself and having everyone wonder if you need more than your back adjusted...) Zany, contemplative, occasionally moving, and tremendously insightful, this is a book about love, family, raising children, temptation, and origami.

"It had begun to seem to Graham, in this, the twelfth year of his second marriage, that he and his wife lived in parallel universes. And worse, it seemed his universe was lonely and arid, and hers was densely populated with armies of friends and acquaintances and other people he did not know."

Graham's wife, Audra, is tremendously outgoing, the type of person who can tease a story from a stranger with whom she's waiting in line within a matter of minutes. This is the complete opposite of Graham, who would prefer to blend into his surroundings, and would rather not know the personal peccadilloes of everyone in their apartment building, their son's pediatrician, even his wife's yoga teacher.

"Audra could converse with a statue. (In fact, once in the ER she had had a long talk with a man who turned out to have had a stroke and could only communicate by blinking.)"

Audra is vastly different than Graham's first wife, Elspeth, a slightly standoffish lawyer. But Audra has decided that she wants to be friends with Elspeth, so through the sheer force of her personality, she wills Graham to make it happen. For a little while it works, which leads Graham to wonder what his life might have been like if he had stayed married to Elspeth, and wonder what it was that kept their relationship from working. (Other than the fact that he cheated on her with Audra.)

In addition to Audra's utter vivaciousness, the couple deal with the challenges of raising a son with Asperger's. When Matthew becomes interested in joining an exclusive origami club (seriously), the couple throws themselves into their son's passion as much as the other socially awkward members of the club will allow. And as Matthew navigates the difficulties of adolescent friendship, again, Audra, dragging Graham along for the ride as they try to convince a boy to be friends with Matthew again (even if a little bribery is involved).

Standard Deviation made me laugh quite a bit, but it also made me tear up a few times, and it made me think. Sometimes Audra is almost too wacky to be believed, but yet I know a few women who seem to befriend everyone they meet, even those not interested in speaking. The book is a fascinating, touching, humorous meditation about what love, marriage, and parenthood mean, and how those who don't remain in our lives still have the tendency to affect us.

I remember wanting to read Heiny's debut story collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow, but you know—too many books and not enough time. Given how good this was, how well Heiny balances humor and heart, the quiet moments of life along with the zany ones, I'll definitely need to give her stories a try as well.

Even if you don't have an Audra, an Elspeth, a Matthew, or a Graham in your life, this book is so worth picking up. I don't think I'll get these characters—or the things Heiny made them say or do—out of my mind anytime soon. And I don't think I mind that one bit.


  1. Single Carefree Mellow was great- definitely give it a read. I am excited for this one.

    1. Thanks, Gayle! This was a fun read but so well-written, too. Hope you enjoy!

  2. This may just be the funniest book I've ever read! Also going to give her short stories a look.