Heather, the Totality


By Matthew Weiner

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Named a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year: The explosive debut novel about family, power, and privilege from the creator of the award-winning Mad Men.

Mark and Karen Breakstone have constructed the idyllic life of wealth and status they always wanted, made complete by their beautiful and extraordinary daughter Heather. But they are still not quite at the top. When the new owners of the penthouse above them begin construction, an unstable stranger penetrates the security of their comfortable lives and threatens to destroy everything they’ve created.




MARK AND KAREN BREAKSTONE got married a little late in life. Karen was nearly 40 and had given up on finding someone as good as her father and had begun to become bitter about the seven-year relationship she’d had after college with her former Art teacher. In fact, when she was set up with Mark, she nearly turned the date down because Mark’s only prominent quality was his potential to be rich. Her friend, long married and on her third pregnancy, mentioned no other qualities. Karen’s married friends seemed to be obsessed with the fact that they had never considered money’s importance in their relationships, having gotten married so young. Now, deeper in life they were distracted by it, sleepless as they debated their long-term security. Karen still wanted someone handsome. She felt it would be an unbearable compromise to stare at an ugly face every day and worry about her future children’s orthodontia.

But no one had actually met Mark. The women knew he had a good job and wasn’t from Manhattan and Karen could ask someone’s husband who knew Mark, but there really wasn’t time for anyone to investigate in the days before email or texting. Mark had her number and if he used it, she certainly wasn’t going to let her machine answer. And he had a nice enough voice and was a little nervous, which meant he wasn’t a serial womanizer. So Karen, unenthusiastic, changed dates on him twice but they eventually went out for a drink, a sexy idea if Karen had not forced it to a Sunday night.

In the dim light of the bar, Mark was not unattractive; he was plain, the way a girl is plain. He didn’t seem to have any pronounced features but at the same time they weren’t all so similar that he was handsome. His face was fat in every way, youthful: his nose was round, his cheeks were round but somehow his body was lean which gave him the look of someone you didn’t really notice.

As they debated having another drink, he told a story about someone eating his lunch out of a refrigerator at work. It didn’t matter who did it but he had an idea because he saw mustard on the sleeve of some receptionist. He told Karen that most guys say they’re having lunch with clients but they always end up watching sports in a bar together and it’s costly and a waste of time and he has an edge because he brings his own and usually he’s the only guy awake in the afternoon. She laughed and he looked at her, his face kind of changing with surprise and he said, “People don’t get me sometimes.” For Karen, this was lovely.

Maybe they were meant to be together because she thought he was very funny. A lot of the stories had happened to him and he was frequently the butt of the joke. It was almost like he had the personality of someone very confident, someone who came off so strongly that they felt they had to constantly deprecate themselves. Still, his face said the opposite. They started dating and three or four weeks in, they had sex in his apartment because she might want to leave right after. But she didn’t. His rooms were well appointed but not slick and his hands had held her waist so firmly that her hips were pleasantly sore, so she relaxed into his down pillows, soothing and familiar with the scent of lavender dryer sheets. And then they had sex again the same night and she felt that he desired her. And that was very attractive.


Mark’s Father was a high school football coach and also an administrator and civics teacher so he had some status beyond sports in the upper middle class suburb of Newton, Massachusetts. With all the professional families and their well-bred but rebellious children, Mark slowly discovered who he really was: some version of the chauffeur’s son. He had everything the others had but of lesser quality: an old-fashioned three-speed bicycle, no trading cards, unexciting and infrequent vacations and tennis shoes bought from the bin in the supermarket.

His Father found him lacking in aggression and eventually gave up bullying him, finding him best suited for supporting the real warriors, like a girl. Mark did eventually show some athletic ability in cross-country running, which required psychological discipline but was solitary and dismissive of the teamwork his Father thought most valuable. By junior year Mark knew that he preferred to be quietly competitive and that he didn’t get along with men because he hated the anonymous place they assigned him when they were in groups.

Women had been a mystery to Mark. His Mother was an eternal cheerleader and his older, smarter Sister had wrapped the family in the drama of an eating disorder in her early teens, her battle to delay adulthood finally won when she had a heart attack after returning from treatment at seventeen and died. In addition, he learned that he had none of his Father’s charisma and his physical appearance, his face mostly, was no help to him in developing confidence with women.

He got attention for having a dead sister; still it was normal to him, and her long illness had made him so self-reliant that no girl could imagine his loneliness. His Sister’s demise had most importantly made strangers of his parents, as they rarely spoke to him, instead retreating into the mundane: cleaning, painting and repairing the house so worn down by the failure of their years-long rescue mission. By his senior year in high school they had moved on to the yard where gardening allowed them to spend time on their knees in the dirt, no different than the wet vegetables they picked and let rot in baskets by the mudroom. Mark wondered if anything could ever relieve their silent, busy grief and resolved to be the achieving survivor for their benefit, but in equal measure he knew that massive financial success and a high, white collar job would allow him to be reborn into a world where none of this had ever happened.

Mark liked Karen because she had no idea how beautiful she was. She had raven hair and blue eyes and her body was fit yet still soft and curvy. When he asked his coworker who’d set them up how he could have left this detail out, the coworker revealed he’d never seen her. His wife knew her and said she was an 8, she’d actually said she was a 7 but he couldn’t tell that to Mark, especially after Mark had openly declared her a 10. The coworker was pleased but curious and when he finally met Karen at the Christmas party he was confounded by the fact that she was indeed very beautiful, although not a 10, and she did have a great rack.

The night Mark and Karen finally undressed before each other, he stared at her as she got up to get a robe and go to the bathroom. It was a bright moonlit night and her nipples were almost purple in the blue air, her skin so milky, her thighs so full and ankles so narrow. He thought he would never get tired of having sex with her and he took that thought very seriously and knew they would marry.


You might think a man like Mark who was not rich by 40 would never be rich, but he worked in a field of finance where a big score was still possible. While Mark and Karen were engaged, there was a promotion available which included a bonus that would have catapulted him into wealth. Now that they were a couple and enjoying the social fruits of dining with other couples and the joy of guaranteed company on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s, they held the unspoken status of being on the verge of success. The promotion hung in the balance throughout the entire planning of the wedding and both of them were thinking how much bigger a party they could throw but also worrying that it might not happen and they could be in debt and Mark might even have to find another job.

Karen was prepared to give up her years accrued in publishing because it was a repetitive, gossipy business and she rarely had contact with writers. Also, she wasn’t exactly in publishing. It was the reason she came to New York, but the competition was impenetrable and so she migrated through temp work into the adjacent world of public relations, where in addition to the mild glamour of independent films and restaurant openings, she was brought tantalizingly close to a publishing house. Eventually, she told people she was in publishing because no one understood publicity, especially the freelance kind and someone had once misheard her and the reaction was noticeably more enthusiastic. Deeply behind the scenes, she booked travel and appearances for authors and editors and after once covering for her boss with a perfectly purchased apology of handmade chocolate and ash-striped cheese, she began to design themed gift baskets so specific and exquisite that many urged her to start her own business.

The praise she garnered in this unexpected sideline only highlighted her clear lack of enthusiasm and drive for the career she had fallen into. Unlike her boss, she was incapable of shaking her suburban manners or showing sudden charm to strangers with her sunglasses on her head and thus upon realizing that Mark might insist she change her profession to wife and mother, she was pleasantly excited. Karen knew that there were no housewives in Manhattan in the traditional sense and that she could be quite fulfilled by becoming a volunteer at the school, a nest builder, and a manager of servants.

When Mark was passed over two weeks before the wedding, Karen was crushed to the point that she debated if she could get out of it. As she sat in her kitchen in the middle of the night and wrote down the pros and cons on a piece of paper, she considered the horrible fact that maybe she was only marrying him for money. But she knew she was a better person than that. She knew that what she had come to know as love had become love when she was around him. She didn’t just want to have a child before it was too late; she wanted to have a child with him. That was very important; in fact, it was the only thing on the list she’d made and she was glad for the whole exercise and wondered why she had never been brave enough to distill her ambition on paper before.



  • "Weiner deftly exposes the weirdness of mundane life changes" and "chillingly reminds us of how unstable the ground is that we take for granted beneath our feet."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
  • "creepy, unsettling...and queasily seductive"—USA Today
  • "Beyond its chilling portrait of America's social and economic divide, the novel raises a number of thorny questions... Weiner writes with maximum economy"—Associated Press
  • "You'll devour it in a single, heart-racing sitting."—People
  • "slim but it packs a substantial punch"—Seattle Review of Books
  • "The Matthew Weiner of Mad Men makes himself known in Heather via sharp and complex character insights...the novel transcends the status of a mere sleek, domestic thriller, and contributes meaningfully, unexpectedly, to resistance."—The Millions
  • "A sharp, slim page-turner, though much simmers underneath the surface of Weiner's deft prose."—BookPage
  • "Weiner's award-winning writing and producing of such renowned television shows as The Sopranos and Mad Men is neatly evident in his quietly thrilling debut novel. Written in descriptive and illuminating scene-like snippets-though nearly free of dialogue-this one-sitting read concerns the eerily shared delusions of a privileged Manhattan family and a man who stalks the periphery of their lives...The sense of doom is sharply rendered, characters are well developed, and their motivations are finely wrought. Readers will hope for more book-form fiction from Weiner."—Booklist
  • "A sharp, character-driven debut novel that examines class and parenting with equal power,"—B&N Reads
  • "Weiner has created a very contemporary and creepy little novel about a teenaged girl and a fervent admirer. Rife with observations about Manhattan's elite, Heather is both unsettling and satisfying."—Literary Hub
  • "viscerally real and totally chilling, this is a fantastic book."—Bookreporter
  • "A page-turning thriller...we highly recommend reading it in one sitting so you can soak it all in."—Popsugar
  • "Fans of Mad Men will find familiar themes lurking in the show creator's debut novel."—Harper's Bazaar
  • "Heather, The Totality is a tour de force of control, tone and razor-slash insight. In its clear-eyed anatomist's gaze and its remarkable combination of empathy and pitilessness I hear echoes of Flaubert and Richard Yates, with a deeply twisted twist of Muriel Spark at her darkest. I could not put it down."
    Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow
  • "Short and rapier-sharp, Matthew Weiner's HEATHER, THE TOTALITY compels and unnerves in equal measure. Like the great Patricia Highsmith, Weiner renders the disturbing not just plausible but exquisitely, agonizingly inevitable. A tour de force."—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl
  • "This short novel of upper-crust anomie and class-divide obsession is a scorcher! It's the classic noir construction: the short walk off the long ledge and the plummet to an indifferent Hell. Matthew Weiner demonically delivers the goods! Read this book in one gasping breath."—James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential and Perfidia
  • "Heather, The Totality gripped me at once and had me spellbound. It was partly the absolute certainty of the world he was describing, the sense that beyond these brilliantly chosen details there was a wealth of similarly truthful social and psychological perception unstated. And partly the slightly fastidious form, the sound of a voice a hair's breadth away from affectation, but so firmly where it was that there was no question of turning away and not hearing what was going to come next. Then there was the ice-cold mercilessness, of a kind that reminded me (oddly, I suppose, but there it was) of Evelyn Waugh."—Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials
  • "slender but searingly intense".—New York Journal of Book
  • "An exciting debut novel with a fast-paced plot and plenty of suspense"—Vogue
  • "sure to draw in fans of his character-driven work...Leave it to Weiner to derail a picture-perfect family."—W Magazine
  • "A lacerating novella."—O, The Oprah Magazine
  • "Brief but with a big punch...Weiner paints a detailed, achingly insightful picture."—Elle
  • "Mad Men creator Weiner crafts a finely honed tale that highlights class conflict." —Publisher's Weekly
  • "A page-turning thriller."—Pop Sugar
  • "I cringed and shuddered my way through this short, daring novel to its terrible inevitable end. Each neat, measured paragraph carpaccios its characters to get to the book's heart - one of Boschian self-cannibalising isolation. A stunning novel. Heather, The Totality blew me away."—Nick Cave
  • "A miraculous and fearless novel, Heather is unprecedented. As well as being smart, sharp and readable, it proves there are still fresh and exciting ways to write fiction."—MJ Hyland, author of Carry Me Down
  • "Chilling and poised, I loved it"—Maggie O'Farrell, author of This Must Be the Place

On Sale
Jun 12, 2018
Page Count
144 pages
Back Bay Books

Matthew Weiner

About the Author

Acclaimed storyteller Matthew Weiner has been entertaining audiences for two decades as a writer, creator, executive producer, and the director of Mad Men, one of television’s most honored series. He also worked as a writer and executive producer on The Sopranos, along with several comedy series, and made his feature film debut in 2014. Weiner studied at Wesleyan University and earned his MFA from the University of Southern California.

Learn more about this author