Reflection: Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

When I’m anxious I go to bookstores. I worked in them for years, and for some reason, I still find it’s soothing to stroke spines and neaten piles of books. This is not the best news for my bank account, because I always find new friends I should bring home. My To Read pile grows higher every day and the days I have left I which to do this reading grow fewer.

 I picked up Heather, The Totality while I was having one of my mismanaged anxiety clouds. The cover was dynamic. It looked like a fast read and right now I am not above an easy win. I finally settled down to read it while soaking in a tub full of hot water and Epsom salts. It had been a long day, one of those days where my worries about my father’s health collided with my concerns about my own mortality and my choices that had lead to the fact that, in my late thirties, I can soak in the bath and read a book without being interrupted. The solitude of steam and salts is a mixed blessing. Every blessing is also a curse, I suppose.

Heather was easy to read. I immediately felt a reluctant affinity with this winter-blooming family. In particular, the parental obsession with the infant Heather, an uncertain and fragile responsibility, struck closer to my imagining of myself than I was at all comfortable with. The relationship between this constellation of people — mother, father, child, and outsider — was claustrophobic and myopic. Heather strained against this circling pull, looking and leaning outward to the life ahead of her, as her parents strained to pull her back into the path of their own lives. While I would not say that Weiner captured the by turns expansive and insular concerns of a young woman, he did at least outline the constraints by which they are bound.

It also explores the spectre of class-divide in the United States: the breach between the rich and the poor is near caricatured, which provides a commentary on the terrors imagined by those who precariously cling to wealth in a financial climate where the middle class is unstable and shrinking. Heather is insulated from this socio-economic instability by her devoted, but myopic parents. The novella reads as the horror story with which every parent lives, a dangerous outsider, immediate or systemic, threatening the order and security of both themselves and their child. It perhaps hinted at the ways in which parents understand their own selfhoods as encompassing their child’s own subjectivity, albeit without the child’s willingness to be a part of this preexisting subjectivity. For me, the story horror story did not lie with these external threats, but rather with the increasingly limited vision of the parents, whose world shrank to accommodate only their own constellation instead of the broader galaxy in which they are located. Their failure to situate themselves within a broader socio-economic ecosystem contributes to the family’s inability to respond to the world around them.

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