...[a] charming debut novel ... Heiny crafts indelible scenes, such as the one of drunken parents at a Cub Scouts cocktail party — no appetizers, plenty of Jell-O shots — that Audra and Graham attend in the hopes of landing Matthew play dates. Or the exquisite horror of the school’s United Nations Day, which Audra approaches with dread equal to the Battle of the Somme ... Readers searching for a blissful summer novel, a polished delight, look no further.
Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny’s first novel, is about a marriage, and, as with marriage, it is easier to catalog this novel’s individual sly charms than it is to nail down the essential, quicksilver thing that makes it such a success ... Heiny finds a wonderful specificity in archetypes. Audra and Graham’s apartment is a revolving door of down-on-their-luck houseguests ... The book has a kind of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus feel, but its confidence, and the texture of the small world it creates, keep it from feeling parodic, as do the various “deviations” from the archetypes Heiny explores. Nor is it completely lighthearted, despite its comic tenor ... Like Graham, the novel gestures at darker corridors, mostly choosing to leave them untraveled. But as with any marriage, it’s better to take this novel just exactly as it is, rather than nitpick all the things that it’s not.
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 ... Heiny's novel dishes up amusing riffs on marriage, misfits, and finicky eaters, plus some wonderfully on-target descriptions ... Standard Deviation is fun, but like Audra, it goes on too long and starts to wear you down. By piling on too many episodes, it loses its delightful breeziness. Which is a shame, because Heiny clearly has what it takes to join the elite coterie of witty social satirists who turn out smart, lively charmers. Stay tuned.
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—she pluckily; he sheepishly—make 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.
...meanders cheerfully along, making up for its relative lack of action with its humor and insight into characters ... 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.