Contemporary Fiction: Katherine Heiny

Attention, all Laurie Colwin fans!  There’s a new writer in the house, a writer who captures New York City upper-class family life in a comic yet tender way that reminded me of Laurie Colwin the whole time I was reading. In a really good way. Because is there any other way to remember the writing of Laurie Colwin?

This author, Katherine Heiny, has published an enjoyably humorous collection of short stories called Single, Carefree, Mellow. But today I’m writing about her first novel, Standard Deviation. As I’ve probably already made clear, the book is set in Manhattan and lets us into the thoughts and feelings of Graham Cavanaugh, an introverted man in his second marriage. His first wife, Elspeth, is quiet, elegant, reserved, and a terrific cook. His second wife, Audra, talks constantly, invites near strangers to stay overnight in their apartment, and leaves the cooking entirely to Graham. Throughout the book, comparisons (both deliberate and involuntary) arise in Graham’s mind, leading to a thoughtful narrative about what leads to contentment in a marriage.

Also, Graham and Audra are parents. Parents of a ten-year-old boy named Matthew, who is a fussy eater, very passionate about origami, and would never join a random group of children in the lobby to play. Ms. Heiny is both realistic and eloquent about the joys, sorrows, and frustrations of bringing up a beloved child.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet how funny this book is.  Parts of it are quietly amusing, parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny, and parts of it make you sigh and realize that, yes, that’s really how it is. Ms. Heiny succeeds in creating characters and events that are outrageous enough to be intriguing but recognizable enough to fit into a realistic story about families and relationships.

I just might have to read this book a second time before I return it. That’s how good it is.

The library also owns some books by Laurie Colwin. Check these out:

Family Happiness

Happy All the Time

Another Marvelous Thing


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