Standard Deviation: A Q & A with Katherine Heiny

Originally published April 2018

When it comes to writing, a little crazy goes a long way.

“I think all writers are sort of crazy,” says author Katherine Heiny. “It’s sort of prerequisite.”

Heiny’s first novel, “Standard Deviation,” brings it — with a colorful cast of characters in modern day New York City. At its center is the Cavanaugh clan — Graham, Audra and their son Matthew.

It’s clear from the beginning that Audra is the star attraction. A self-made sociologist without a sociology degree, she is that friend, that coworker, that mother that is in everyone’s business, with an uncanny ability to shock and entertain. Her persona’s lack of filter is diametrically opposed to that of her husband Graham, the novel’s narrator. Anxiety-ridden and self-conscious, readers are treated to an equally tender and hilarious look at modern marriage.

Talking with Heiny, I asked if she considers herself an Audra or a Graham.

“I would have said when I started writing, I was totally Graham,” she says. “I never had a problem with ‘What would Graham think … What would Graham do?’”

That said, the author came to realize the Audra side of her personality as she wrote.

“I am very interested in people,” she says, recounting one of her own personal Audra moments taking her father for an eye appointment, and talking up the doctor more about his own daughter than her dad’s vision.

“I’m not as patient as Audra, though,” she says, noting her more Graham-like qualities. “I think I am still an anxious person. I worry about stuff that’s no big deal. When I am worried it’s because I misaddressed an email.”

Katherine Heiny will be at:

Highland Park Pubic Library
494 Laurel Avenue, Highland Park
(847) 432-0216

on Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The book is out in paperback and copies will be for sale.  The event will conclude with a book signing.

Heiny came to writing in a bit of a roundabout way, having grown up in Midland, Michigan. Home to Dow, a corporate town often breeds corporate residents, and she first thought she was destined for law school.

“I always wanted to be a writer, she says. “I loved reading all kinds of books but I really liked reading legal thrillers, so thought I would be a lawyer.”

Law school didn’t materialize, but a writing program at Columbia did. “It was really a revelation that I could make a living as a writer.”

“Standard Deviation” is told from one person’s perspective, meaning that despite all we know of Audra, readers don’t really know Audra. Heiny acknowledges this comes up a lot with readers.

“People in book clubs are always asking me if Audra is still having an affair,” she says — a question she can’t answer. Because the narrator is Graham, “I could never be in her mind.”

And is another book in the works? “I am working on a new novel. It’s really nice to be in that world, where everything that happens to you, you see it through the lens of the novel.”

Book recommendation: I always ask authors about the last “best” book they read — for Heiny, it’s “My Cousin Rachel.” “It’s so good, it was like a gift to myself … getting caught up in a book is such a rare wonderful thing.”

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