Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition
Matthew Weiner is best known as the creator of the TV show Mad Men, ahead of that he was a writer on The Sopranos – this is his first novel. It’s a slim volume, almost a novella really – the prose is sparse, stripped back, pared down to all that is needed; you get the feeling that it took a whole lot longer to re-write this than it took to write it. I guess that’s the way with most books but it’s very apparent here. Simple descriptions give little hints around character intentions.
This is the story of Mark and Karen Breakstone. We hear all about their idyllic life and their perfect daughter, Heather. We hear, first, about their courtship and their white, privileged life is the backdrop – for this is a novel about privilege, an allegory for the decaying American life; the stranglehold of neo-liberalism and the entitlement it breeds.
We’re given clues around the boredom and unhappiness that is seeping into this life. How Mark congratulates himself for not sleazing all over the young interns, for example. Karen settles for PR over publishing and then “eventually, she told people she was in publishing because no one understood publicity, especially the freelance kind”. You can almost hear a Woody Allen-styled narration – that’s the voice in this. Very clear. We flit through non-scenes, eavesdropping on interior monologues…
Against all of this we get the story of wrong-side-of-the-tracks guy Robert Klasky. Bobby is a bad guy. The chips have always been staked against him. And he’s like something Don Draper might have been had he not invented a new life, or like something any of Tony Soprano’s crew might have been in their adolescence.
Bobby is painted in sinister tones and has the bad track record of his lack of privilege doing most of the (perceived) dirty work for him. But is Bobby actually a bad guy? Well, we become aware of some of his evil intentions.
It’s hard to talk about the plot of this book too much further without ruining it. But it’s the sort of novel you can sit down and lose yourself in – chopping it in a single reading session.
It’s so well controlled, so subtly hideous, the horror of modern ennui – it’s the type of disturbing that makes for compelling reading. We’re drawn into this world via the most deceptively brilliant thin character sketches.
Weiner’s writing track-record is of course sound. But here he shows those great skills across a new (for him) platform. He’s achieved something great here. That this work will no doubt be met with suspicion, perhaps quite polarising, is in the end its secret strength. A brilliant look at the corrupt heart of contemporary America and the evils of a class system that is betraying its entire population.