Cover image for Book Club kit : Standard deviation
Book Club kit : Standard deviation
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

Physical Description:
9 bks. (319 pages) ; 22 cm + 1 discussion guide
"The celebrated author of Single, Carefree, Mellow, returns with her debut novel--a rueful, funny examination of love, marriage, infidelity, and origami. Divorcing his wife to marry his girlfriend, Audra, is the one impulsive thing Graham Cavanaugh has ever done. Audra is charming and spontaneous and fun, but life with her can be exhausting, constantly interrupted by phone calls, burdened by houseguests, and populated by old men with backpacks full of origami paper. As Graham and Audra struggle to define their marriage and raise a child with Asperger's, they decide to establish a friendship with his first wife, Elspeth. But former spouses are hard to categorize--are they friends, enemies, old flames, or just people who know you really, really well? Graham starts to wonder: How can anyone love two such different women? Did he make the right choice? Is there a right choice? A novel as poignant as it is hilarious, Standard Deviation never deviates from superb"-- Provided by publisher.


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TheSkimm's Best of Skimm Reads
NPR's Guide to Great Reads
The Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Fiction of the Year
Minnesota Public Radio's The Best Books to Give and Get: Fiction Picks of the Year

An uproarious novel ("Both heart-piercing and, crucially, very funny." --Louise Erdrich, The New York Times) 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.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

This first novel from Heiny (Single, Carefree, Mellow) meanders cheerfully along, making up for its relative lack of action with its humor and insight into characters. Introverted, middle-aged Graham has been married for 12 years to his talkative, younger second wife Audra, and he's beginning to wonder whether they're really suited for each other, or if he should have stuck with his "tall and slim and regal" attorney ex-wife Elspeth, with whom he's just begun speaking again. Graham and Audra have a 10-year-old son, Matthew, who is socially awkward and obsessed with origami, and about whom they spend a good deal of their mental energy worrying. They host Thanksgiving for an assortment of quirky characters, including the misfit adults from Matthew's origami club; take their son and a friend they nickname "Derek Rottweiler" on an ill-fated fishing expedition; and attend an unexpected funeral. Heiny has a flair for peculiar but believable dialogue, and a generous attitude towards even the most inept characters, particularly Graham, whose befuddlement about his life choices and his longing to smooth things out for his son persist throughout the changes in his life. 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. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Heiny's first novel, following her story collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow (2015), offers an absorbing character study of modern-day relationships and parenthood. Graham lives in New York with his younger second wife, Audra, and their 10-year-old son, Matthew. Graham is the more reserved of the pair, while the loquacious Audra seems to makes friends with every person she meets. One day Graham unexpectedly runs into his ex-wife, Elspeth, whom he left for Audra. At Audra's urging, they set up a double date with Elspeth and her current boyfriend. Subsequent encounters between the two couples lead Graham to begin to examine and question the state of his current relationship as he ends up spending more time with Elspeth. Meanwhile, Graham and Audra struggle to find the best way to parent Andrew, whose unique social needs present all kinds of challenges. Heiny's characters are authentic, witty, and infused with life, and they hold their secrets close, whether to protect the ones they love or merely themselves. Heiny's novel offers a nuanced consideration of commitment, acceptance, and the desire for personal connection.--Strauss, Leah Copyright 2017 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

HUE 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden. (Atlantic Monthly, $30.) With his signature blend of deep reporting and character-driven storytelling, the author of "Black Hawk Down" offers a look at the 24-day battle that exposed the hollowness of American claims about the Vietnam War. THE CHICKENSHIT CLUB: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, by Jesse Eisinger. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) Why was virtually no one prosecuted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis? A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist examines the cultural shifts in the legal and business worlds since the turn of the century that led to solicitous attitudes toward corporations. MAKING RENT IN BED-STUY: A Memoir of Trying to Make It in New York City, by Brandon Harris. (Amistad/HarperCollins, paper, $15.99.) In this searing debut memoir, an African-American critic describes his life as an aspiring filmmaker in a historically black neighborhood, analyzing gentrification and millennial culture. BEHAVE: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert M. Sapolsky. (Penguin Press, $35.) This quirky, opinionated and magisterial synthesis of psychology and neurobiology offers a wild and mind-opening ride into a better understanding of just where our behavior comes from. BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS, by Lawrence Osborne. (Hogarth, $25.) On a Greek island, two wealthy young women encounter a handsome Syrian refugee, whom they endeavor to help with disastrous results. Osborne is a psychologically acute observer of privilege as the novel takes on the tone of an existential noir. RETURN TO GLORY: The Story of Ford's Revival and Victory at the Toughest Race in the World, by Matthew DeBord. (Atlantic Monthly, $26.) This page-turning combination of business book and adventure saga tells the tale of the Ford Motor Company's triumphant return to championship competition at the endurance race called the 24 Hours of Le Mans. THE HUE AND CRY AT OUR HOUSE: A Year Remembered, by Benjamin Taylor. (Penguin, paper, $16.) Asixth grader's chance meeting with President Kennedy on the morning of his assassination opens this touching and eloquent self-portrait of an odd, bewildered boy born into the frightening middle of the 20 th century. LOVE LIKE BLOOD, by Mark Billingham. (Atlantic Monthly, $26.) Detective Inspector Tom Thorne investigates the murder of a Bangladeshi teenager in a novel that probes the phenomenon of honor killings and casts doubt on the work of the Metropolitan Police's Honor Crimes Unit. STANDARD DEVIATION, by Katherine Heiny. (Knopf, $25.95.) This humorous and insightful first novel, the portrait of a New York City marriage, is full of sly charm. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Kirkus Review

In her debut novel, the author of the charming short story collection Single, Carefree, Mellow (2015) matures into new (equally beguiling) terrain, exploring marriage, fidelity, friendship, and parenting.It's easy to see why Graham, one-half of the New York City couple at the center of Heiny's first novel, is enthralled by his wife of 12 years, Audra. While Graham, a medical-venture specialist at a venture capitalist firm, is steady, stable, and fond of "routine and order," Audra, a freelance graphic designer 15 years his junior, is an unrestrained force of good nature. Audra's vivacity offers a stark contrast to Graham's emotionally cool first wife, Elspeth, with whom the couple reconnects. Audra draws all manner of friends and random strangers into her orbit with her chatty sociability and almost unwavering cheer. She cannot make it through a trip to the grocery store without running into a million people she knows (Graham says it's like shopping with "a visiting dignity") and bonding big-time with the checkout guy, is constantly inviting people (a woman she barely knows from her book group whose husband has been unfaithful; their building's afternoon doorman, for a reason Graham cannot recall) to move into their den or eat at their table. Audra is forever on the phone, helping out with PTA activities at the school attended by their 10-year-old son, Matthew, who has Asperger's and is some kind of origami prodigy, or chatting with her best friend, Lorelei. Like Graham, the reader may be deeply enchanted with, if also somewhat mystified by, Audra. She's a wonderful character, as are many of those assembled around her, and the series of minor challenges she and Graham face (potential infidelities, possible pregnancy, challenging play dates, and other parental concerns)she pluckily; he sheepishlymake for reading as delicious as the meals Graham is forever called into service to cook for whomever Audra happens to have invited by that night. To quibble, the episodic, somewhat attenuated plot lacks a degree of urgency and loses a bit of steam midway through, but it regains its footing by the end. And to spend 300-plus pages with Heiny's wry voice and colorful cast of characters is to love them, truly. An amusingly engaging take on long-term marriage with a lovably loopy character at its center. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Manhattan husband and father Graham Cavanaugh knows that he shouldn't compare his second wife, Audra, to first wife, Elspeth, but the contrast is too pronounced to ignore. Audra is always socializing and insisting that Graham participate even as he wistfully yearns for his more orderly existence with Elspeth. Yet, life with Graham and -Audra's son, Matthew, a middle schooler with Asperger's, necessitates a wide social safety net, whether with Matthew's origami club members or with the few friends he makes at school. Graham simply can't revert to his Elspeth days but must jump on the crazy train with vivacious Audra and enjoy the ride. In this debut novel, (after the short story collection Single, Carefree, Mellow), Heiny handles the sensitive material with a deft, always humorous touch. -VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]--Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter | One 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. Here they were grocery shopping in Fairway on a Saturday morning, a normal married thing to do together--­although, ­Graham could not help noticing, they were not doing it together. His wife, Audra, spent almost the whole time talking to people she knew--­it was like accompanying a visiting dignity of some sort, or maybe a presidential hopeful--­while he did the normal shopping. First, in the produce section, they saw some woman with a baby in a stroller and Audra said, "Oh, hi! How are you? Are you going to that thing on Tuesday?" and the woman said, "I don't know, because there's that other meeting," and Audra said, "I thought that got canceled," and the woman said, "No, it's still on," and Audra said, "I wish they wouldn't double-­book this stuff," and the woman said, "I know," and Audra said, "Well, if we don't go, will everyone say bad things about us?" and the woman said, "Probably," and it wasn't that Graham wasn't paying attention, it wasn't that he missed the specifics--­it was that there were no specifics, that was the way they actually talked. He took his time thumping melons and picking over grapefruit and was actually rewarded for being forced to linger by remembering to buy green grapes, which weren't on the list. "Who was that?" he asked when Audra rejoined him. "Who?" Audra said. She was peering into the shopping cart. "That woman you just said hello to." "Oh, she has a girl in Matthew's class," Audra said, selecting an apple. "And a five-­year-­old and a toddler and that baby, if you can believe it. But no more, because when the baby was only a week old, she had her husband get a vasectomy. Just made the arrangements and woke him that morning and said, 'Guess what? You've got a doctor's appointment.' And he went!" She took a bite of the apple. Audra was forty-­one--­a slender woman with a not-­quite-­perfectly oval face. In fact, Graham sometimes thought, all of Audra was not-­quite. Her eyes were not quite brown but had stalled at hazel, her lips were not quite full enough to be lush, her eyebrows were not quite high enough to be called arched, her chin-­length hair was not quite auburn, and its messy waves were not quite ringlets. She'd worn her hair this length for as long as Graham had known her. Apparently, if she cut it shorter, it curled up around her face and made her head look overly round, and if she grew it longer, the ends got too heavy and she had to have lots of layers put in. (This was marriage: you started out thinking you'd married the most interesting person in all the world and twelve years later, your head was full of useless hair facts. Of course, there was other stuff in there--­some milestones, having a baby, buying a house--­but that was basically the essence of it.) Audra was not quite beautiful but her liveliness kept her far away from plain. One aisle over, in the breakfast cereals department, Audra suddenly stopped the cart. A young man behind them glared but Audra paid no attention. "Oh! Hey!" Audra said. "Look! Hello! Hi! Whoa! How are you?" You would have thought she was greeting a whole soccer team instead of one lady in a T-shirt and jeans with her hair pulled back into a bun. "Hello, Audra," the lady said. "So sorry I missed yoga this morning, Beverly!" Audra said. She cleared her throat. "Or, um, I mean, Maninder Prem. Sorry, again, I forgot that you go by your spiritual name now, right? Even in the supermarket?" "You can call me Beverly," the lady said neutrally. "But please remember that I have a no-­refund policy for late cancellations and no-­shows." "Of course," Audra said. "It's just that this morning we had a slight--­well, I don't know if you would call it a family emergency, more of a family situation--­regarding my mother-­in-­law and an ancient jar of capers in her fridge and a trip to the hospital--­" Audra's tendency to lie could still shock Graham. His mother lived in Ohio, and as far as he knew, she was perfectly healthy, although she did have a habit of leaving things in the refrigerator for a terrifyingly long time. "I'm sorry to hear that--­" Beverly said. There seemed to be more to say but she wasn't saying it. "Yes--­" Audra said. There seemed to be more for her to say, too, but she wasn't saying it, either. Finally, she made a fluttery little gesture and said, "Beverly, this is my husband, Graham. Graham, this is my yoga teacher, Beverly." Graham smiled politely and shook hands with Beverly, who looked him up and down, her eyelids flickering. He was fifteen years older than Audra and he could tell that Beverly was thinking, Oh, it's one of those marriages. Graham wanted to tell her that it wasn't one of those marriages, that his relationship with Audra was so special and unique even he didn't know what it was, but he'd given up on trying to communicate that long ago. He was tall and in good shape, with the hair at his temples just starting to go gray, but he suddenly felt tempted to stand up straighter. (Was it just Graham or was Beverly awfully judgmental, especially for a yoga teacher?) "So anyway," Audra said, "see you next week, Beverly." They moved on, and as soon as they went around the corner and out of sight, Audra said, "I completely forgot about yoga this morning!" as though that hadn't been as obvious as a bumper sticker. "I think Beverly could tell that," Graham said. Audra sighed. "Maybe so. I don't know why I ever thought yoga class early on a Saturday morning was such a good idea. I guess I must have been feeling particularly empowered when I signed up." They saw their appliance repairman, Brady Shannon, in the ice cream aisle, and Graham knew that Audra would have an extralong talk with Brady because she believed that if you were very, very nice to repairmen, they responded very, very quickly the next time you needed something repaired. The fact that this theory had proved very, very untrue had not shaken her belief in the practice. "Brady Shannon!" Audra exclaimed. "Well, hello, Ms. Daltry, Mr. Cavanaugh," Brady said. He was a slight, balding man wearing a gray sweat suit and those black padded kneepads that skateboarders wear. Every time Graham had seen him, Brady was wearing those kneepads, presumably because he was always having to get down and crawl around people's refrigerators and washing machines. "I was thinking of you just this morning," Audra said. "In fact, I think of you every morning when I get in the shower!" Brady had recently fixed their shower head. "I think, This feels heavenly and I owe it all to Brady Shannon!" Brady smirked at Audra and rocked a little on the balls of his feet. Not for the first time, Graham wondered if there was some sort of processing unit--­some sort of filter--­missing from Audra's brain. She said things like this all the time without realizing how they sounded, and now here was poor Brady Shannon, getting turned on in Frozen Foods. "Anyway," Audra said, oblivious, "how have you been?" "Oh." Brady sounded disappointed. He probably hoped that Audra would go on describing what she did in the shower. "I'm all right." Audra touched Brady's arm. "And please tell me how dear Ellen is." Okay, now first of all, Graham happened to know that Audra didn't say things like "dear Ellen." Except that she just did. Second, Graham would have bet that Brady didn't like it when people said things like "dear Ellen." But he had just liked it when Audra said it. Third, Ellen was a cat. "She's coming along, I guess." "Bladder infections can be very serious," Audra said. "Don't I know it," Brady said, shaking his head and tsking. Audra and Brady talked some more about dear Ellen's urinary tract, and health problems among the elderly cat population in general, and the astronomical cost of veterinary care, and Brady's aunt Linda, who had had a bad run of UTIs herself recently, and the time Audra drank cranberry juice nonstop for a week and turned out not to have a UTI at all and--­ Finally, finally, they got to the checkout lines. Audra said, "Now, let me see if Jordan's working. Oh, yes, he is! Let's get in his line. Come this way." "Who's Jordan?" Graham asked, maneuvering their cart with some difficulty. "The checkout guy." "Well, yes, but why do we need to be in his line?" "Just a minute," Audra said. "Here." She pulled the front of the cart to a checkout line near the door. The customer in front of them was just putting the last of her groceries on the conveyor belt. "Audra," Graham said again. "Why--­" Audra squeezed around the front of their grocery cart so that she was standing right next to Graham and spoke in a low voice. "I thought I told you this but maybe not." Her breath on his face was as warm and soft as clover. "I was here a couple of weeks ago and Jordan was ringing up this man's produce and the man had bought some pears but Jordan accidentally hit the wrong button and rang them up as these superexpensive Asian pears and the man got very huffy--­he really was the most awful man, Graham, very coarse and uncaring--­and told Jordan to take the Asian pears off his order and Jordan tried but he'd never done it before and the cash register froze and they had to call the supervisor and the man hollered at Jordan and stormed off without even buying his groceries! I thought Jordan was going to cry. I honestly did. He can't be more than twenty, and he's so sweet and defenseless-­looking. So, anyway, now I always make sure to go through his checkout line and tell him what a good job he's doing." Perhaps this was the fundamental difference between them. Audra was worried about Jordan's self-­esteem and Graham was wondering if Fairway still had the special Asian pears. If so, should he go get some so they could have Korean short ribs with pear marinade for dinner? Audra edged back to the front of the cart and began unloading their groceries onto the conveyor. Graham peered around her to look at Jordan. He was a tall skinny African-­American guy with neatly cornrowed hair and the large scared eyes of a deer. He was painstakingly checking out the purchases of the customer in front of them. When they got up to the cash register, Audra said, "Good morning, Jordan!" so suddenly that Jordan fumbled the can of peas he was holding and had to lean down behind the counter to pick it up off the floor. He looked at Audra cautiously. "Good morning." He began scanning items. "How are you, Jordan?" Jordan paused, a bottle of ketchup in his hand. "Pretty good." He scanned the ketchup and reached for a box of cereal. "I was hoping you'd be working today," Audra said. "You always do such a good job." Excerpted from Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.