Wednesday 4 October 2017

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

I have never actually watched a full episode of Mad Men, but Mr Books was a fan, so I saw some scenes in my periphery at different times. My impression was that it was set in a misogynistic world full of moneyed, privilege people taking advantage of those less fortunate. Mr Books assures me it was more complex than that.

I kind of feel the same way about Matthew Weiner's (the creator of Mad Men) debut novella, Heather, the Totality.

It had an underlying misogyny. It combined the conscious and unconscious privilege of wealth with the lengths that parental love will go to protect their offspring.

There was a careless attitude towards others who are deemed lesser, even by Heather who was proclaimed as being so empathetic. The rich got away with stuff, while the poor stayed stuck in victimhood. It was a story of excesses and extremes.

Extreme neglect and excessive love.

It was also a story of men.

The main female characters didn't feel real, whereas the two men were fully realised despite the short story form. 'Women had been a a mystery to Mark' and that's how they are seen all the way through the story. The fear and tension was between the men and how they were perceived and acted.

It was a curious read. Quick, bite-sized paragraphs that kept you at arms length.

Ten days later I'm still thinking about it though.

Mr Books enjoyed the read until the ending which he described as being like a TV series that had just been told they weren't getting the funding for another season so they wrapped it up quickly. It wasn't that the end was inconsistent, but it felt a little convenient and I, for one, wasn't sure what the point was. (Mr Books said not all stories have to have a point - the point is the telling of a story.)

I particularly enjoyed the contrast in childhood experiences of Heather and Bobby. The divide between haves and have-nots was wide and almost completely beyond the control of anyone to change. Both sides were completely unable to see things from the other perspective. It was this divide that created the fear and tension in the novella.

Weiner built this tension up carefully and quite masterfully. He led you off in one direction at the start and I was actually quite relieved it didn't go the way he first suggested. Perhaps that makes me just like Mark and Karen though.

And perhaps that was the point after all.

Heather, the Totality is a November release for Allen & Unwin in Australia.


  1. The misogyny in this book sounds difficult to get through! I've definitely finished a book and felt like I didn't get what the point was. I think this happens when I don't feel like anything significant has changed over the course of the story or when I feel like the author hasn't really said anything significant, but it's hard for me to define exactly what I mean. I certainly couldn't tell you what point I expect a book to have. I just know when I feel like it's missing one!

    1. That's the point I was trying to make Katie!!

      There were misogynistic elements, but it felt like that was part of the story Weiner was trying to tell. The characters weren't overtly sexist, they were just embedded in their cultural norms, if that makes sense.


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