Standard Deviation: Book summary and reviews of Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

Standard Deviation

by Katherine Heiny

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny X
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
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  • Published in USA  May 2017
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A divinely funny novel from the celebrated author of Single, Carefree, Mellow about the challenges of a good marriage, the delight and heartache of raising children, and the irresistible temptation to wonder about the path not taken.

When Graham Cavanaugh divorced his first wife it was to marry his girlfriend, Audra, a woman as irrepressible as she is spontaneous and fun. But, Graham learns, life with Audra can also be exhausting, constantly interrupted by chatty phone calls, picky-eater houseguests, and invitations to weddings of people he's never met. Audra firmly believes that through the sheer force of her personality she can overcome the most socially challenging interactions, shepherding her son through awkward playdates and origami club, and even deciding to establish a friendship with Graham's first wife, Elspeth.  Graham isn't sure he understands why Audra longs to be friends with the woman he divorced. After all, former spouses are hard to categorize - are they enemies, old flames, or just people you know really, really well? And as Graham and Audra share dinners, holidays, and late glasses of wine with his first wife he starts to wonder: How can anyone love two such different women? Did I make the right choice? Is there a right choice?

A hilarious and rueful debut novel of love, marriage, infidelity, and origami, Standard Deviation never deviates from the superb.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. An amusingly engaging take on long-term marriage with a lovably loopy character at its center." - Kirkus

"Contemporary fiction fans fond of urban settings and humor in the vein of Nora Ephron or Nick Hornsby should appreciate this tale of city life and marriage, while those searching for characters on the Asperger's spectrum could find young Matthew, portrayed as high functioning but challenging, authentic and recognizable as he navigates various connections with his parents and others." - Library Journal

"At the heart of the novel is a finely tuned awareness of the fragility of the most seemingly permanent connections and the ambivalence shot through even the hardiest forms of love." - Publishers Weekly

"Heiny's novel offers a nuanced consideration of commitment, acceptance, and the desire for personal connection." - Booklist

"Audra Daltry is a singular creation - a character so funny, so appealing, so sure that she can change the world for her family that she will jump right off the page and take up permanent residence in your heart. Standard Deviation is a marvel." - Kate Atkinson, author of Life After Life

"A book so funny and perceptive I want to be friends with its author." - Laline Paull, author of The Bees

"I have been a fan of Katherine Heiny's writing for years but my adoration of her reaches a new apex with this, her first novel, Standard Deviation. It's an irresistibly charming novel about age-old institutions: marriage and parenting. But Heiny's brilliantly drawn characters and her keen insights make both topics feel brand new. A delightful, refreshing novel that illuminates the world of complicated relationships." - Elin Hilderbrand, author of Here's to Us

This information about Standard Deviation shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

A delightfully sensitive, heart-warming read.
4.5 stars

“It occurred to Graham that here, finally, was the similarity between these two women he’d chosen to marry: they were both totally unrufflable, one out of iciness, the other out of obliviousness.”

Standard Deviation is the second book by American author, Katherine Heiny. Fifty-six-year-old Graham Cavanaugh has been married to Audra Daltry for twelve years. “Audra was not quite beautiful, but her liveliness kept her far away from plain.” She was the reason he split with his first wife, Elspeth. Two more different women are hard to imagine, and Graham’s life now is a far cry from the ordered existence he had with Elspeth. He has Matthew, his ten-year-old autistic-spectrum son, whose current interest (obsession?) is origami.

Graham narrates the events of their lives: the various people that Audra invites to dinner, or to stay over, sometimes for unspecified periods of time, in their den, all with perfectly sound Audra logic; encountering his ex-wife in the deli; an origami conference; a playdate for Matthew that includes a grandfather and his dog; a Thanksgiving dinner that puts several guests in the hospital; dinner and get-togethers with his ex-wife and her partner; almost affairs; summons by the school principal about Matthew’s accessing porn on the school computer; interactions with his incredibly naïve secretary; and the inheriting of a coke machine.

All of Heiny’s characters are a bit quirky, a bit odd, but despite her flaws and foibles (“…Graham wondered if there was sort of processing unit – some sort of filter – missing from Audra’s brain. She said things all the time without realising how they sounded…”), Audra is almost impossible to dislike. While Graham sometimes longs for the quiet, ordered life he had with Elspeth, and even indulges in some of it for a while, he eventually realises that he would not swap his unconventional life with Audra or his often difficult but nonetheless remarkable son for the ordinary, regular ones that other people have.

Nothing really dramatic ever happens but, like Anne Tyler, Heiny has a singular talent for taking ordinary people doing fairly ordinary things and keeping the reader enthralled and endeared. Her pace is sedate, her descriptive prose, lovely, her dialogue, realistic. Fans of Tyler’s work are very likely to enjoy this one. A delightfully sensitive, heart-warming read.

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Author Information

Katherine Heiny

Katherine Heiny is the author of Single, Carefree Mellow, a collection of short stories. Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, and many other places. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and children

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