Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

Portrait of a girl: Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

Heather, The Totality is an absorbing portrait of a girl, the way her parents revolve around her, and what happens when someone else is pulled into her orbit. Mark and Karen Breakstone have a fairly ordinary life of luxury which is fully cemented when their daughter Heather arrives into their lives. As she grows up, their respective relationships with her change, but they both continue to keep her as the central figure in their family. Meanwhile, a man who lives far away from their privilege will soon also be brought into contact with Heather, and again she will become a central focus.

Weiner, known best for the TV series Mad Men, writes in a distinctively blunt and detailed prose style as the narrative starts by setting up how the Breakstones come to be and then showing how their family unit moves and evolves. In between this, he cuts to snippets of the story of Bobby, a troubled young guy who escapes his drug addict mother and time in prison to work on a construction crew. The result is a surprisingly absorbing book that details the tiny elements of human life and how different people can become focused on one person. Heather as a character reflects the way parents see their own children in specific and personal ways, meaning that it takes until her perspective is explored to see how her parents’ may or may not be unfounded. Weiner uses these various perspectives and the minutiae of life to show a privileged life in its anxieties and successes, and what happens when an outsider lurks on the edge.

The plot is mostly understated, brewing arguments and thoughts, and its pacing is likely to feel familiar to those who’ve seen Mad Men, especially in the progression of Sally Draper in that series. There is lingering menace, but mostly it is a short and sharp novel about the small details of life and intricacies of family units. It is one for drama fans, not full of action but an intriguing portrait of a family that could be read in a single sitting.