I just finished watching Mad Men in its’ entirety for the third time in my life, and I can say that it is still my favorite show in the history of television. That is to say, my personal history of watching television. After I finished the last episode, I had what I’m calling a “Mad Men hangover.” I couldn’t think about anything else for a good two days, couldn’t commit to a new book or binging yet another show on Netflix. Luckily for me, Mathew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men for those of you not in the know, published his first novel, Heather, the Totality, this past November.
Heather, the Totality is a slim novel, a mere 138 pages, but is an unsurprisingly compelling, quick read. Viewers of The Sopranos and Mad Men will both find Heather, the Totality to be particularly Matthew Weiner-esque. It reeks of existential dread and toxic familial relationships, two things I’ve come to think of as Matthew Weiner’s calling card, as both themes are observable in Mad Men and the Sopranos.
Heather, the Totality is the story of the Breakstone family. Mark, Karen and their daughter, Heather. Mark is a businessman who perpetually falls short of his professional goals and never earns as much money as he aspires to.
Mark’s only prominent quality was his potential to be rich.
Karen is his much more attractive wife who is reticent to admit that she enjoys being a stay at home mother, and Heather is their beautiful daughter. Heather, who is as empathetic as she is beautiful, has always been widely adored and is the glue that holds Mark and Karen together. As a child, she and her mother are inseparable. However, as she ages she begins to show an interest in her father and the two develop a stronger relationship.
Trouble arises for the Breakstones when a Hedge fund manager buys the penthouse apartment above the one they live in. The new owners are bent on renovating the interior of their apartment as well as the building’s façade. Thus, ensuring that all other tenants will be inconvenienced during the process. Most choose to temporarily relocate; however the Breakstones stubbornly remain. During this time, Heather catches the singular attention of one of the constructions workers, Bobby. He watches Heather relentlessly, carefully stalking her and carefully learning the intricacies of her day-to-day life.
Readers are also presented with Bobby’s story. We read about his upbringing, which presents a stark contrast to Heather’s privileged adolescence. Bobby was a raised by a single, heroin addicted mother and was left largely to fend for himself. This path ultimately leads him to prison, and once he is released he is street-smart and his dangerous sensibilities are finely honed. What he is not, however, is subtle. His attentions are noticed by both Mark and Heather. This prompts Mark to obsess over Bobby, and also elicits a series of arguments between Mark and Karen, who believes that Mark is over-reacting.
The book culminates in a tragedy. It has obviously been building and building toward it, and the reader is aware that a number of tragedies could occur as the novel winds to a close, but is unsure of which it will be. The climax is quick and painless, it abruptly and unexpectedly comes to an end working itself out quite satisfactorily.
To sum up, Heather, the Totality was a book that I read very quickly and enjoyed. It is tense, compelling and filled to the brim with suspense. If you are a fan of Mad Men or The Sopranos, then you are sure to gobble up Heather, the Totality.