Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has serious writing cred. Aside from creating the critically acclaimed Mad Men, he’s written for shows like The Sopranos and Becker as well. It’s a wonder, then, why his debut novella Heather, the Totality is receiving such negative reviews.
The titular Heather is a child who attracts an ex-convict’s attention, and this is the short book’s short setup. Book reviewers tend to stick to the mantra “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Except in this case. Reviewers haven’t given Weiner’s debut a break.
Image Via Amazon
Ryan Vlastelica of The AV Club writes:
The stylistic and thematic forebears seem to be Richard Yates and John Cheever, —and also Weiner’s touchstones for the story of Don Draper—although neither of them were ever this awkwardly pulpy, and Weiner’s Raymond Carver-on-crack style (which is to say, Raymond Carver on sedatives) reads like minimalistic realism stretched to the point of parody.
Lucy Scholes of The Independent writes:
Relating to this is the overarching problem that the book ultimately reads like the skeleton of a work still in need of fleshing out. It’s like a film treatment – which is perhaps not that surprising with Weiner’s Mad Men background – noirishly immediate and descriptive, but he fanatically favours telling over showing, and all but avoids dialogue. Admittedly there are echoes of Yates and Cheever, but all these do is make the insipidness of Heather, The Totality all the more apparent by contrast.
Johanna Thomas-Corr of the Evening Standard writes:
So when it was announced that [Weiner] was writing an actual novel, expectations were predictably high. Would he produce a sophisticated take on metropolitan life in the vein of Richard Yates? A John Cheever-esque dissection of the American middle class? Or a perplexing, mundane, nasty novella about rich New Yorkers that reminds you that brilliance in one medium is no guarantee even of competence in another. Come to think of it, there was an awful lot of aimless meandering in the middle to late stages of Mad Men too.
David Canfield of Entertainment Weekly writes:
In his grim take on family and society, Weiner scrutinizes commodified images of American life and freely borrows from those who have already done so. (He’s among them, in fact: Mad Men, his television masterwork, is an extended interrogation of capitalism and the ways in which it infiltrates the domestic sphere.) Yet — even forgiving his ruthless but facile take on the class divide — Weiner strains to bring a freshness to this approach. Attempts at building intrigue are interrupted by his fixation on exposition, on bringing characters’ histories and personalities into focus. It’s rarely merited and the paranoid atmosphere suffers. This is especially true of the climax, which never wavers from telegraphing its nihilistic endpoint.
Again, it’s not extremely common for a book to receive such bad reviews. The book market is relatively slim compared to films or TV, so the reviewers don’t see it as their job to do any more harm to a book’s sales. Although not everybody is trashing Heather, the Totality, its negative reviews are noteworthy. Reviewers probably aren’t cutting Weiner a break because he’s already a successful writer. Save the good reviews for true debut writers, am I right?
Feature Image Via AMC