*trigger warning: brief mention of rape, this is a small part of the book’s storyline*
This month’s book club pick was Matthew Weiner’s Heather, the Totality, a novel that follows a man and woman’s relationship, marriage, and ascent into parenthood with the birth of their daughter, Heather, a blessing unto the entire world, captivating family, friends, and complete strangers alike. Interwoven into Heather and her family’s story is one of a recently released inmate whose own life merges with Heather’s in a peculiar way. His arrival brings the family’s own fracture to the surface.
We hoped you enjoyed reading along! Here’s what Megan and Rebecca thought of the book:
The novel had a strange format. Rather than chapters, the author opted to use short paragraphs with no assigned section or chapter distinctions. The book also includes little to no dialogue. Do you think these stylistic decisions affected your reading of the story?
Rebecca: I thought the book’s structure mimicked the fracturing of the Breakstone family (and the author’s choice in name for the family is no coincidence, either). The novel is told is disjointed, run-on thoughts through a series of seemingly unconnected paragraphs. I think the author intentionally chose a less conventional way of storytelling to align with the broken familial relationships.
Megan: I agree. It was shown right from the off that things were not great in this story. The family, even though it hasn’t begun yet, is already fractured as two semi-broken people are coming together to create Heather. I think it was a conscious decision to use the fractured style to show that everything about the story was fractured; the people, the situations presented, how they reacted to everything. It was haphazard in a way.
How does this book relate to the larger issue of sexism and the male gaze?
Rebecca: I thought you could definitely tell this book was written by a man. The way Karen and Heathers’ bodies were described was nothing short of sensual. I got that icky feeling in my stomach the moment I read the line about Karen’s “nipples almost purple in the blue air, her skin so milky, her thighs so full and ankles so narrow.” Whether this was intentional by the author to make a point, or simply a manifestation of his masculinity, I have no idea—either way, it was gross. Heather was also super sexualized at a young age by Bobby.
Megan: Absolutely. It was a man writing from a woman’s perspective as well and it just didn’t always sit right with me. When Karen described wanting to look sexier for her husband, I got skeeved out thinking, “Does Weiner really think this is still happening?” It was weird. It made me wonder how many conversations he’d had with women when writing this.
I think the over sexualization of Heather was what he was trying to get at with Bobby. I thought it was wildly inappropriate for it to be about a 14-year-old girl and I guess I sort of understood it in the context of the story, but it was just uncomfortable. I understand he was getting into the psyche of a sociopath, but it felt unnecessary for it to be so descriptive.
Were you satisfied with the story’s twist ending?
Rebecca: Sure. Although we didn’t know that Bobby was going to rape/kill Heather, we could make a pretty educated guess that he would try. I kind of expected Mark to take some kind of action, but murder wasn’t on my mind.
Megan: I was legitimately thrown, no pun intended, when it happened. I absolutely thought that Bobby was going to go ahead with his plan, as we had been made to believe for the first 120 pages or so. I couldn’t believe Mark pulled it out and just went for it. It also felt rushed and the whole aftermath was super bizarre. It felt like a weird fever dream almost. Or a badly written episode of SVU.
Did you find the characters/storyline relatable? Do you think it’s uncommon for those whose lives are projected as perfect to harbor secrets or hardships they bury?
Rebecca: I think people definitely look into others’ lives with rose-tinted glasses, especially because of social media. Human nature is to brag; we enjoy talking about our accomplishments. Whether it’s starting a new job, having a kid, getting married, going on vacation, or acing an exam, we want to show off the positive aspects of our lives to others. We don’t want to talk about, let alone showcase, family problems, relationship issues, or failures and rejections. It’s important to show kindness and empathy towards everyone, because we don’t know what kind of inner battles they’re facing.
Megan: I don’t think that they harbor secrets or hardships. I think everyone is different and everyone has hardships, even if it doesn’t seem like it, but we certainly do live in a glossy world where we don’t know who is dealing with what or, on the flip side, we know too much of what they’re going through because of social media. Social media is a double edged sword in that lovely way.
Secrets and lies and every negative emotion can happen, as we’ve clearly seen in this book, at every rung of the fiscal ladder. Humans are private or subdued, vulnerable and needy and so much more no matter their status in life. I think in that respect, that we all hide things from each other, is relatable. Some of the other aspects of this story, not so much. The ending felt rushed and I didn’t like that.
So, dear readers, it can be said that we did not so much like Heather, the Totality. We felt that the writing was haphazard, some of it was cringeworthy and we’re sort of over the whole rape/murder trope in literature. You can have a suspenseful story without including sexual assault, you know? Overall, not out favorite.
Tune in next month when we discuss our next book club pick!