Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

In brief: Heather is the reason her parents remain together long after they have drifted apart. She is their everything and they will do anything to keep her as their sun.

The good: So Mad Men-esque in its mysteriousness.

The not-so-good: Pretty quick read.

Why I chose it: I love Mad Men. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the beautiful hardcover.

Year: 2017

Pages: 138

Publisher: Canongate (Allen & Unwin)

Setting: New York City

Rating: 9 out of 10

Like a lot of other people, I really miss watching Mad Men. It’s the rare kind of show that you can watch over and over, analysing the characters and their intentions, getting something different each time. So when I heard that Matthew Weiner, creator of the show, had a novella coming out… fangirl screaming occurred. When the book arrived from the kind, cake-loving people of Allen & Unwin, I just had to marvel at it. It’s a beautiful hardcover with a clear/gold dustjacket covering (I presume) Heather’s sepia toned face. It’s showy, yet mysterious.

So what about the story inside? Even though the book is slim, this really wasn’t the kind of book I’d read in one setting. You know how after an episode of Mad Men, you would need to let things sink in before you analyse Don’s or Pete’s motives? This story is like that. In a few words (and often without the aid of dialogue), Matthew Weiner tells the reader quite a lot. It’s also what he doesn’t say or spell out that increases the allure of the Breakstone family. Karen and Mark are a bit of an odd couple, but initially you as the reader hopes they’ve found true love. But when their daughter Heather enters their life, she becomes their reason and sun to orbit around. It’s not about Karen and Mark anymore, it’s Karen or Mark working hard to win Heather’s affection. It’s a competition. But is Heather really the golden child they’ve made her out to be? Certainly someone else thinks so. How far will the Breakstones go to protect Heather?

The juxtaposition of Heather’s indulged, golden childhood is put into contrast against that of Bobby, someone who had nothing. As both Bobby and Heather grow up, one must ask what is the impact of nature versus nurture? To what degree is it acceptable to helicopter parent? Karen and Mark become shells of themselves after Heather’s birth, doing everything for the sake of her. Karen gives up her job to be a full time mother and the resentment (even though she didn’t particularly like her job) increases as Heather enters her teenage years. She finds herself increasingly lonely. Mark is upset that his job hasn’t made him super-wealthy to care for Heather and he’s jealous about the time Karen and Heather spend together. He wants his daughter to shine a light on him and he wants to protect her fiercely. Who is wrong and who is right? Ultimately the decision is left to the read to make the moral judgement, which I know some people won’t like. Generally, I would sit in that camp, but I know that Matthew Weiner likes to explore the shades of grey of morality (hi, Don Draper) so I was expecting it. I enjoyed the sparse writing style and connecting clues to understand the Breakstones better. Overall, Heather, the Totality is a fascinating read that asks more questions than it answers. I enjoyed reflecting on the book afterwards nearly as much as reading it!

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