Try Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. It’s pretty short, only 319 pages, haha. If you want to know more, take a look at this review, written by yours truly. Where did that phrase even come from? Out of 5 stars, this book is definitely a 4.5.
STANDARD DEVIATION reviewed by Chyina Powell
We are all one mistake away from being deviant. One tear away from depression, one date away from promiscuity, one annoying house guest away from insanity. Heiny’s novel tells the story a family who are just one standard deviation from normalcy. The plot of Standard Deviation focuses on a man named Graham, who is simply living his life, and how he tries to relate to those around him. Graham is a businessman trying to make his second marriage work. His first marriage failed due to his infidelity and he ends up marrying his “miniskirt girl”, a young, talkative, and vivacious woman named Audra who is the exact opposite of the calm, organized, and scholarly Elspeth, his first wife. At first, the change was exciting and fun but as the years have gone by Graham realizes that he and his wife are separated by some indescribable barrier that he desperately wants to eliminate.
The author then throws in the fact that Graham is in his mid-sixties and is attempting to understand his ten-year-old son, Matthew, who has Asperger’s. All parents have struggles when it comes to raising their children, no parent is perfect and Graham and Audra are a great example. Like most, they want what they perceive to be best for their child but things rarely go their way. They want Matthew to not be so picky, to make friends, to do “normal kid stuff” (which does not seem like a reality) but they love him in spite of his many quirks. Heiny describes what it has been like raising Matthew and how Graham wishes his son could be like other children his age, instead of a quiet kid obsessed with origami. Towards the end of the novel, Graham and Audra are dropping Matthew off at a play date with a boy whose father seems strange and yet the couple still leave Matthew there. “Graham would not lend Steven money, or trust Steven to house sit his apartment, or valet-park his car. But leave their only child with him for two hours? Oh, well, sure, no problem! Here you go, his name is Matthew and we’re pretty attached to him, so try not to traumatize him, okay?” It is a perfectly normal situation, parents being wary of letting their child stay with people they do not know, yet Heiny tells it in a novel and fun way. As with many of the adults presented in this book, Graham uses alcohol to help him deal with the stresses from day to day, including his assistant who seems to be completely oblivious to how the world works. The poor girl doesn’t even pay her own rent or know how to pack a luggage for a trip. Additionally, Graham decides that he will improve his relationship with his ex-wife, who still seems to understand him better than Audra. Since the divorce, whenever he saw Elspeth they spoke in a code and then he notices one day that they are no longer doing it. He makes the best of the frustrating house guests his wife invites without telling him by cooking, cleaning, and reading the newspaper, all the while hoping to be understood and to feel as though he has somewhere he belongs. At the end of it all, everyone wants to feel special, and to feel supported whether it is by family, friends, or the guy at the deli counter. Graham can’t make connections the same way that Audra does, he is not as organized as Elspeth, and he worries that it is his fault that his son has Asperger’s and hangs out with men who fold paper all day long. Katherine Heiny gives us those quirks, those details about ourselves that we would rather ignore or erase, she gives them to the characters just like we would experience or see them in everyday life. No apologies. No explanations, which adds a sense of delicious indulgence to the plot. It makes Graham’s life more realistic and so genuine that it is almost uncanny. And similarly, each situation Heiny gives is ordinary, the surprise comes when these trying incidents occur in one family in such a short time frame. The fears are average: fear that your child will be different, fear that your wife is cheating, fear that there is something wrong with you; it is the way in which these anxieties are presented that makes Standard Deviation stand out. On one hand, it is a mundane story about a man and his relationships, on the other it is almost so mundane that it becomes extreme. That is just one of the reasons the novel is so enjoyable, everyone can relate to at least one of the circumstances presented. And yet, nobody wants to admit that they have some of the same personal experiences. It is funny, wholesome and intriguing. It causes you to wonder, how does my life deviate from the norm?