“She was radiant with life even when she was alone, or thought she was.”
Heather, The Totality is a power punch of a novel. Short but brutally precise, each word is chosen carefully and delivers deliberate intensity.
We are introduced to Mark and Karen Breakstone, a couple living in New York. Having married later in life, when the couple has a daughter, Heather, she becomes the focus of their life. Or, at least, for Karen she does. Make finds himself sort of an intimate outsider, though his love or adoration isn’t any less.
We are also introduced to Robert Klasky, Bobby, who lives a much different life from the Breakstone family. Neglected and ignored by his addict mother, Bobby learns to forge his own life at a young age. This life quickly evolves to include violence and while Heather toddles around adoring parents living an insulated and luxurious life, Bobby lands himself in prison.
“He would go down to the river which was littered with abandoned appliances and tires and feel lonely and sick because “he, too, felt thrown away,” as a prison psychologist would one day tell him.”
We watch as Heather grows and the closeness she once shared with her mother shifts as she enters adolescence. Teenage girls need their space, but Karen has made Heather the very epicenter of her life. Mark also finds his relationship with Heather changed, although in his opinion for the better, as he is suddenly allowed into a closer relationship with his daughter.
The stories seem unrelated, one a fairy tale and the other a nightmare, but the paths of these cast of characters crosses with shocking results.
“It had annoyed her and then enraged her, making her think of all the entitlements of men and how they didn’t have the right to just look at women and disrupt them that way.”
The core question at the center of this short novel is this: what would you do to protect your family? How much do we notice in the way of danger surrounding us? Would you even notice danger if it was lurking near those you love? And if you did notice a predator in your midst, what do you do?
We are pulled into this little family, lulled into safety and complacency with their normal, expected dramas. Weiner allows the force of our own imaginations to fill in the blanks as he leads us down different paths of possibility, each one shocking and horrifying in their own right. And even with all of that possibility laid out before us, somehow the actual ending ends up being surprising.
Children are always the center of a parent’s life. Thousands of tiny decisions coupled with thousands of larger decisions are sprinkled throughout a parent’s odyssey of raising their kids. Worries and stress and laughter and tears are all woven in this journey. And underneath all of that, fear is a parents most intimate companion. We fear for our children, consciously and unconsciously, throughout their entire lives.
Weiner taps into that fear and waters it. He plants the seeds of doubt and terrible possibility and then allows them to bloom in our imagination. Even after the pages end and the cover closed, this fear, this trickle of terror lurks in your mind. Heather, The Totality will stick with you, turning the two words, what if, over and over in your mind.
Powerful novels aren’t in their length, but in their ideas. And how well those ideas stay after the pages have ended. This isn’t a ghost story or a paranormal haunting, but the novel will haunt you nonetheless. It is chilling in the blunt delivery of it’s terror.
Heather, The Totality is easily read in one sitting. It is simple, yet intricate and will make your heart race to the end.
Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review!