Heather, The Totality is a slim debut novel by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner that has a depth as deep as it’s slimness. Sure, not an impressive opening to a review, but neither are lines from the novel such as “in the dim light of the bar, Mark was not unattractive; he was plain, the way a girl is plain.”
The story is about Heather, a blooming preteen that boldly steps into her womanhood, her parents Mark and Karen (yup, that Karen), and an ex-con turned leery, green construction worker, Bobby. Bobby is interested in Heather from afar but shouldn’t be, Heather is pushing her pubescent boundaries and wagging herself around when her parents aren’t looking, and Mark and Karen have seemed on the verge of divorce since their meeting in some hazy backstory.
It is about as dry and thin as a saltine, with characters that feel just as tasty. Most of this is a cliché experience in turning Weiner’s work for the screen into a page-turner, and in a way, he is successful with it. But the problem is that stories like this work on the screen and rarely work in print without feeling the heavy burden of decades of televised cliché. In the hands of some great actors, brilliant direction, and a keen production design, Weiner’s work works – in fact, we know it does in that very box in our living room for season after season… But readers need more.
What I enjoyed about it was its compact, direct execution. He was able to tell an effective story in what almost certainly felt like no more than thirty-five thousand words. His structure was Saves-The-Cat-ian, and his characters were concrete (albeit, concrete stock characters that at times felt like parodies of themselves). The directness of his prose is tight (but with a few sins like the one already mentioned), and the read-through is breezy, all leading to an end that I honestly didn’t see coming only because I didn’t think it would be that obvious, would it?
Not of the caliber that the jacket copy, highly respected blurbers, and publication reviews seemed to gush about, this is a fast, entertaining read for people who don’t like to think that much and enjoy watching television instead. I guess I enjoyed it only for that. Snappiness, like a half-hour family drama… But I don’t watch much television, and there’s the problem.
Photo by Malcom Koo, Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 4.0