Review | Heather, the Totality, Matthew Weiner

Heather, the Totality (October 2017)
by Matthew WeinerFrom the book description and the author’s work on Mad Men, I was expecting Heather, the Totality to be a taut, sophisticated grip lit. I expected Heather to be a rich young woman who falls in love with a bad boy and unfortunately sets into motion a dangerous collision course between him and her family.

The reality is quite a bit darker, yet not quite as thoroughly developed. Heather Breakstone is a 14-year-old girl with remarkable empathy who brightens the day of everyone around her and sees into other people’s souls. She lives in a Manhattan apartment with her overprotective parents: beautiful and dissatisfied mother Karen, and plain-faced father Mark. The disturbed young man who threatens their safety is Bobby, an arrogant psychopath ex-con who thinks he’s above humanity and takes pleasure in torturing animals. He gets a job working construction at the Breakstone’s apartment building, where he sees Heather and finds himself drawn to her.

It’s a disquieting premise, and one I’m not completely sure Weiner pulls off. He opts for a sparse, detached writing style, which creates a bit of a fantastical urban fairy tale feel. Rather than seeming like a real person in a dangerous situation, Heather feels more like an idealized princess figure, sprinkling joy and happiness with her innate goodness. Her enhanced empathy is matched only by her idyllic innocence — she looks at Bobby and sees his humanity, but not his danger. I can imagine a 14-year-old being this innocent, but I wish the story had developed her character a bit more, and showed us the girl amid all the goodness.

To Weiner’s credit, Bobby does come off as truly villainous. His delusions about how girls respond to him and his creepy fantasies about building a life and a home with Heather are enough to make any reader shudder.

It’s a dark book with a thoroughly satisfying ending, but its darkness is mitigated somewhat by its style. Weiner’s approach is clearly deliberate; he invites readers to dive between the lines and shudder at the insights into human nature. Some readers will likely be blown away by the cleverness of this approach, while other readers will be left cold. I thought it could have been so much more.

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Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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