Saturday 16 December 2017

Marriage, divorce and origami in New York City

Fiction: Standard Deviation Katherine Heiny, 4th Estate, €18.19

New York City's iconic skyline
New York City's iconic skyline
Standard Deviation
Katherine Heiny has written one of the beach reads of 2017

Margaret Madden

Graham Cavanaugh spots his ex-wife in a coffee shop and is surprised at the feelings the chance encounter release in him. She is the polar opposite of his current wife, Audra. Ex-wife Elspeth is quiet, aloof and unsociable; Audra is hyper, loud and has no filter. She would literally talk to anyone, and no topic is out of bounds: "You had to pretend you were talking to someone in the time before society had formed and social boundaries had been invented."

Their New York apartment seems to have a revolving door, with a constant stream of random houseguests: the doorman; the appliance repairman; an elderly grandfather and his cranky dog. They all insert themselves into Graham's life and he feels smothered in his own home: "There should be a houseguests' club, like the kids' club in a resort, where your houseguest could watch movies and play games and have a snack while you recharged your batteries."

He finds himself escaping the madness of his cluttered home and visiting the peaceful surroundings of his ex-wife's apartment. They soon fall into a routine and he considers having an affair with the woman he replaced with his current wife: "He knew that adultery was just like any other vice - pride or gluttony or overspending or vanity. It was easy to condemn other people for it, but then you went right out and did it yourself. It was all different when it was you."

Audra may be a handful (much younger than he; beautiful; carefree; larger-than-life), but he does adore her. Their son, Matthew, has Asperger's and both parents feel drained by the realities of raising a child with special needs.

Katherine Heiny has written one of the beach reads of 2017
Katherine Heiny has written one of the beach reads of 2017

Graham is jaded and happy to let age take over: "One of the benefits of getting older was that your friends stopped getting married and having expensive boring weddings that wrecked your budget and ruined your weekend."

On the flip-side, Audra is a wonderful whirlwind of energy and is reminiscent of a dog chasing its own tail. Their household is quirky, packed to the rafters with tension and constant drama, yet is centred on Matthew, his passion for origami and his various needs.

This is an outstanding debut novel with cutting humour, frank observations and a host of bizarre and wonderful characters that you will love to hate, and hate to love.

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