The stories Katherine Heiny collected in her appealing 2015 debut, Single, Carefree, Mellow, were mainly about that many-splendored thing called love and the often baffling, complicated forms it can take — including blithely indulged-in adultery. Her warmhearted and even funnier first adult novel (she's published dozens of young adult novels under assorted pen names) also explores the complexities and ambivalences that color even our most central relationships. But if there are three words that donot describe the characters in Standard Deviation, theyare single, carefree, and mellow. This book is about a marriage under stress — though Heiny keeps it bubbly, evoking the smart, stylish wit of Laurie Colwin, Nora Ephron, and Maria Semple.
She subverts our expectations right from the start by eschewing the perspectives of her two lead female characters, choosing instead to channel the perplexed 56-year-old venture capitalist who has been married to both of them. We meet Graham Cavanaugh 12 years into his second marriage — to Audra Daltry, who is 15 years younger and a million times more gregarious. He's already lasted four years longer with Audra than he did with chilly, humorless Elspeth Osbourne — in no small part because of Audra's winning smile. But here he is, 12 years in, wracked by questions about her loyalty and suitability as a spouse, and whether he made a mistake. He muses that "maybe people weren't meant to get married twice; it only led to comparisons."
We've all met friendly-to-a-fault Audras, perhaps even had the misfortune of sitting next to one on a long flight. Heiny's portrait is initially hilarious: We eavesdrop along with Graham as she gossips her way through Fairway market, lying to her yoga teacher about why she missed class, buttering up their appliance repairman with a sexual innuendo to which she's oblivious, and holding up the checkout line by distracting an inept clerk. After questioning whether "there was some sort of processing unit — some sort of filter — missing from Audra's brain," Graham concedes that she has a lot of intel that people are eager to trade on: "Sometimes Graham felt like he was married to Warren Buffett. Well, a female Warren Buffett who knew about everything except finance."