Matthew Weiner Heather, the To­tal­ity

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

Matthew Weiner was a key fig­ure in the rise of “pre­mium cable” tele­vi­sion. As a writer and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on The So­pra­nos, and the cre­ator and showrun­ner of Mad Men, Weiner helped usher in the age of high-pres­tige nov­el­is­tic tele­vi­sion se­ri­als.

Us­ing Madi­son Av­enue’s wealthy and morally bank­rupt 1960s ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try as foil, Weiner’s mag­num opus Mad Men chron­i­cled an era of break­neck so­cial change and ag­o­nis­ingly slow char­ac­ter arcs. For his de­but lit­er­ary work, Weiner has moved the ac­tion for­ward a few decades, over a few streets, and sped the pace up ex­po­nen­tially.

Heather, The To­tal­ity is di­vided into two nar­ra­tives. One fol­lows the Break­stones – Mark and Karen – from their first date, through their mar­riage (an am­i­ca­ble Man­hat­tan al­liance of con­ve­nience, money and as­pi­ra­tion), the pur­chase of an apart­ment one floor below the pent­house and the birth and ado­les­cence of their daugh­ter, Heather.

De­spite their priv­i­lege, Mark and Karen are un­happy, trapped in par­a­digms of sta­tus anx­i­ety – the only true joy in their life is their daugh­ter. Heather is more than the sum of her parts – beau­ti­ful, charis­matic, with an al­most eerie ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy and trust.

The sec­ond, con­trast­ing nar­ra­tive fol­lows Bobby, born into poverty, with a ne­glect­ful, heroin-ad­dict mother. He grows up rough, and de­vel­ops into a bright but ma­nip­u­la­tive boy, one with in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent ten­den­cies, par­tic­u­larly to­wards women.

It’s clear from the first pages that these two strands will en­twine, but it’s the noirish panache with which they do that el­e­vates the rather sim­ple plot into a satire of ur­ban en­nui so hard­boiled Weiner is es­sen­tially serv­ing us John Cheever-scented es­sen­tial oil.

Weiner man­ages to com­press whole life­times into the space of a few para­graphs, with­out the reader feel­ing they have missed any­thing, al­low­ing el­lipses be­tween scenes to do the work for him. The econ­omy is breath­tak­ing: there is not a flabby sen­tence in sight, balanc­ing the no-non­sense brisk­ness of a screen treat­ment with a novelist’s pen­chant for capri­cious turns of phrase. A per­fect balance of func­tion and form.

And if form dic­tates I should now find some fault with it, there’s very lit­tle to com­plain about. It’s a per­fectly ex­e­cuted lit­tle book, right down to the pro­duc­tion val­ues – a slim hard­cover as gor­geous, solid, deft and eas­ily di­gested as a Madi­son Av­enue pitch. ZC

Canon­gate, 144pp, $24.99

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.