Book review: Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

standard deviation by katherine heineyIt’s not often that I feel so unstrongly about a book that I don’t know what to write. But that’s where I am with Standard Deviation.

Graham is an executive who lives in New York. He is married to Audra, but was once married to Elspeth. Audra is an uber-extrovert with no filter, Elspeth icy and reserved. Graham is somewhere in-between. When Elspeth comes back into this life he muses a lot on the nature of his relationships with the two women.

Later on the focus shifts more to his feelings for his young son who has Asperger’s and a passionate interest in origami. He worries that he will never make friends or feel secure in social settings. But when his son joins an origami club, it is suddenly he who belongs and his parents who feel excluded.

And so it goes on. There some amusing vignettes that are moderately thought-provoking. Where am I on the introvert-extrovert continuum? I never knew origami was so complicated. Would Graham really be attracted to two such different women when in real life people tend to recreate the same kind of relationship, for better or for worse, over and over again?

The structure of the book is slightly odd. It reads more like a series of connected stories. In fact what it feels most like is a TV sitcom, one where each episode has its arc and then everything goes back to pretty much where it was. The children are a little older, the annoying neighbour may have been written out, but the characters are fundamentally unaltered by events of the recent past.

It also has a lot of set-piece scenes which are similar – particularly the ones that involve a group of ill-matched people sitting down for a meal. Again, this is something that happens in TV (pretty much every episode of Gavin and Stacey is premised on the two families meeting for a party on a flimsy pretext) but this book is different from a TV comedy in that it’s not that funny. It’s more wry smile than belly laugh.

A novel needs narrative drive. Standard Deviation is well written, engaging and with some sharp observation but I’m afraid it dragged for me.

I received a copy of Standard Deviation from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Standard Deviation on Goodreads

Try instead – here’s a selection of my reviews of feel-good literary reads

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