'Standard Deviation' Is A Story Of Marriage And Origami

May 20, 2017
Originally published on May 20, 2017 9:38 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Audra is an artist who's charming, endearing, spontaneous and effusive. Her husband, Graham, is a buttoned-down businessman and a man of routine. What he cherishes about his second wife is also exactly what sometimes exhausts him. Then, his first wife, Elspeth, re-enters their lives. She is composed, deliberate and organized. Her arrival causes both Audra and Graham to reflect on the spark that grew into their love and if it ever flickers a little in the winds of real life. "Standard Deviation" is the first novel from Katherine Heiny, an acclaimed short-story writer, and she joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATHERINE HEINY: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

SIMON: When the novel opens, the couple, Audra and Graham, are shopping an upscale supermarket in New York. They have a happy life, don't they?

HEINY: I think they have a very good life. The novel is kind of about how much they value what they have.

SIMON: Yeah, and each other, for that matter, when all is said and done.

HEINY: Absolutely.

SIMON: They have a son named Matthew who is utterly devoted to origami. And Matthew, their son, melts my heart. But a son like this can be demanding for parents, can't he?

HEINY: Yeah. I think that's one of Graham's big realizations in the book is that parenting is maybe not as easy as he thought it was going to be.

SIMON: Explain to us a bit how Matthew is a particular challenge for them.

HEINY: Well, when I started writing the book, I knew that they had Matthew, and I knew that he was the opposite of Audra. And she's so outgoing and so social. And she really believes she can change the world with the force of her personality. And I wanted Matthew to be the opposite of that. And in the book, it's sort of a slow reveal that he has Asperger's because it was a slow reveal to me as I was writing it, that that's what his issue was.

SIMON: What put it in the story, do you think?

HEINY: I think just trying to make Matthew the opposite of Audra. And then it began occurring to me one of the themes of the book is how there are all these sort of different universes in the world, different social universes, and how maybe Matthew has a gift because he can function in many of those worlds, like the origami world and the real world.

SIMON: Audra has a gift for saying exactly what you would think to be the wrong thing, but it makes everyone laugh. (Laughter) Is it fun to create a character who says exactly the wrong thing?

HEINY: It was really fun. I am so sad that it's over, and she'll never talk to me again. But I think that when I was writing it, my own filter, which isn't great, diminished even more. And, like, a few weeks ago, my son wanted me to write his teacher an email. And then he said, but don't try to be funny.

(LAUGHTER)

HEINY: I was like, oh, maybe I have less of a filter than I thought. So that was - when I started the book, I wanted to write about somebody who had no filter..

SIMON: Yeah.

HEINY: ...And what it would be like to be married to that person.

SIMON: So I have to ask, in any ways is the marriage between Graham and Audra mirror any relationship you've had in your life?

HEINY: I think that they're - I mean, the title, "Standard Deviation," applies, I think, in that Graham is this person to whom like standardized norms mean a great deal, and to Audra, they mean nothing. So there's some of that with my husband and myself of looking at situations very differently.

SIMON: And what about the son?

HEINY: My son - well, I have two sons.

SIMON: Yeah.

HEINY: One of them did go through this very intense infatuation with origami, and we wound up going to conventions and things because that's what you do when you love someone who loves origami.

SIMON: I now want to go to an origami convention based on what I read from the book.

HEINY: (Laughter) Well, it was funny because, you know, we went there with our son, and he's given a badge with his name. And I was given a badge that said non-folder, like subhuman.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.

HEINY: And then I put my badge in my purse when we went out for lunch, and I had to dig through my purse and find it to come back in. And the woman behind me was really impatient, and she said, you should wear your badge all the time. And I said, well, I didn't want people to know I was going to an origami convention. And then she saw my badge and was like, oh, you're a non-folder. I should have known. She was really - she was very scornful.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm very touched at the ending of the book. Without giving anything away, when Graham borrows from Jim Morrison and says, if you love someone, you push until you get to the other side. And then when you get there...

HEINY: You have to keep pushing. Yeah. Well, I think that's true. I think there's always another hurdle, but it's possible to enjoy the hurdles as you push through it, if that makes any sense at all.

SIMON: Katherine Heiny - her novel, "Standard Deviation." Thanks so much for being with us.

HEINY: You're welcome. Can I say one more thing, or are we done?

SIMON: Of course, yeah.

HEINY: Today is my birthday.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

HEINY: And all the way here, I was afraid I was going to have some on-air meltdown about turning 50, and then I thought how funny that would be, but I managed to get through without it.

SIMON: Yeah, you were great. You were wonderful.

HEINY: Thank you.

SIMON: And happy birthday.

HEINY: Thanks. It's such a good.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "JUBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.