Mark and Karen Breakstone could be any other mid-40s couple. They met through a setup by mutual friends, fell in love easily and quickly, and are slowly checking the boxes toward domestic bliss: marriage, financial security and then, finally, a baby. But this is a story from “Mad Men” creator and writer Matthew Weiner, and fans of his iconic TV show know it can’t be that simple. Spoiler alert: It isn’t.
Mark’s career takes off in ways they couldn’t have imagined, and the Breakstones find themselves quite wealthy, establishing a posh lifestyle on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. After leaving her career to care for the baby, Karen finds herself resenting her husband, his success and little things about their marriage. Thankfully, Heather is an angelic, easy baby, and she grows into a caring, intuitive and beautiful young woman. She is both the glue that keeps her family together and the thing that might tear them apart, each parent vying for her attention and affection, even at the peril of their own relationship. And when Heather catches the eye of Bobby Klasky, a construction worker renovating their apartment building, things take a dark turn.
Bobby is a career criminal with a tragic past and a misanthropic present. Weiner tells Bobby’s story in parallel to the Breakstones’, switching back and forth between both narratives at an almost breathless pace. The novel seems to be building toward an inevitable, brutal end, and it is—just not in the way you might think.
Heather, the Totality is a sharp, slim page-turner, though much simmers underneath the surface of Weiner’s deft prose. In his portrait of an American family in crisis, Weiner makes us question ourselves, our motivations and just how far we would go for the people we love.