Book Review: Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
Katherine Heiny’s Standard Deviation is filled with wry and acute observations on life while Graham Cavanaugh takes stock of his: realising how greatly he and his second wife, Audra, differ from each other, the day before an encounter with ex-wife Elspeth.
Graham’s second wife, Audra, is an unrestrained force of good nature. She talks non-stop through her epidural, labour and delivery, invites the doorman to move in and the eccentric members of their son’s Origami Club to Thanksgiving.
When she decides to make friends with Elspeth – Graham’s first wife and Audra’s polar opposite – Graham starts to wonder: how can anyone love two such different women? And did he make the right choice?
Graham’s remarks about his second wife, Audra, chimed with me as I read the first few pages of Standard Deviation. They’re a variation on what I hear from my husband when I go out with him or the way I feel about a friend from university days who seems to know everyone when we’re out together, whichever one of us is visiting the other. We are all the Graham to someone else’s Audra.
Standard Deviation opens in the aisle of a grocery store on a Saturday morning and I loved that Katherine Heiny did this. She takes us behind the scenes of a marriage and a family, finding the humour, poignancy, hurt, love and affection in our everyday lives. We see the discussions that happen while running errands and during food preparation more than we sit down to meals with these characters. Even Thanksgiving Dinner has to be savoured more in the anticipation than in the coming together of Audra’s motley assortment of guests. Barely has it begun before we are getting our coats and moving on elsewhere.
Graham ruminates on marriage, both past and present, the challenges they face in bringing up their son, Matthew, and the people who come into their family’s life, however fleetingly. And while Audra voices every thought, devoid of any filter, Graham considers himself to be the more tactful. I’m not convinced that he is; he’s just rather more circumspect in what he shares with others, Audra included.
I admired Audra and how open she is to new people and situations. She appears to breeze through life, taking in waifs and strays along the way, as entertaining as she is indiscreet. I’d probably find her exhausting and need to take regular breaks from her if I knew her in real life but there’s a real generosity of spirit and kindness behind her actions which makes me want to emulate her approach to life.
Standard Deviation is a humorous and insightful meander around a marriage (or two), family life and the people who cross our paths. It’s the type of book I want to share with others by reading passages aloud to them. It made me snort laugh in places, and wince, nod or smile in recognition in others. Even in the book’s moments of real sadness and upset, Katherine Heiny finds the ways in which we show that we love or care for others, while still being ridiculous in all our eccentricity. I absolutely loved it for doing that.
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny is published by Fourth Estate, a Harper Collins imprint. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. For more on Katherine Heiny, check out her Author Website, or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review on NetGalley.