Book Review: Standard Deviation

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Picking out what book to read next for me is always one of those things that depends on the mood I am in when I finish reading the last book. This of course normally happens when I am tired as I read either on the subway or before I fall asleep every night. In this instance, I was looking for a more traditional fiction novel. Something that was a character study on modern living, and had added Standard Deviation to my Amazon Wish List, aka the queue of books I think I may want to read at one point.

The "book jacket" had this as on some Best of 2017 lists like The Skimm, NPR, The Washington Post, and Minnesota Public Radio. It's summary also seemed interesting:

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.

So going in, this seemed like it was going to be an interesting book, and not very plot-driven. That is exactly what the book was, interesting and not really plot-driven. The plot of the book is more or less the story of Graham Cavanaugh and it jumps through what is happening in his life with his wife, his son, his ex-wife, his work, and their friends.

His wife, Audra, is an interesting character who doesn't seem like she could be a real person, at least any real person I have never met. She brings in house guests on a whim, is gregarious, and will find the interesting part of any one. Whereas Graham is more like people I know, reserved, and wonders at times just what his wife is doing.

The part of the book that I wasn't expecting was the relationship between Graham and Audra with their son, Matthew. Matthew is on the Aspergers' Spectrum, and has a huge love of origami. This leads them to finding an origami club and overly detailed discussions of the different folds that could be done. You can tell that Graham wishes his son was more "normal", but then there are times that just how much he loves his son is shown in his actions like cooking him specific foods, taking him to origami conventions, and later taking him fishing. As a parent, these parts of the book were the most heart-wrenching to me as they hit home.

The rest of the book hit home the questions of why do you love someone and what does it mean to love them. The book highlighted the differences between Audra and Graham and showed the jealousy between them, but also the mutual respect. While of course a lot of the story was driven by Graham's relationship with his ex-wife (whom he cheated on with Audra), I felt that part of the story was less about Graham and what he was going through, but more about Elspeth and how she seemed to be a woman that was in love with her job and just preferred to be alone.

Quick Review: 3 out of 5 stars