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The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei

The Deep Whatsis

by Peter Mattei

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I discussed The Deep Whatsis alongside Diary of an Oxygen Thief over on OTC in a venal men two-fer. It's a very long discussion so I'm sharing a snippet of it below. If you are interested in the whole shebang, have a look over on OTC. For those who prefer a briefer overview, here's a bit from my discussion.

I like unrepentant assholes. Don’t get me wrong – redemption arcs have their place and can be enjoyable, but after a while I tire of the trope of callow men with some measure of success deciding that their lives are empty and meaningless and that their chosen work is unsatisfying and that maybe, just maybe, they can be better men. If the catalyst for change is the presence of a manic pixie dream girl, all the better for the formula.

It’s jaded to think that this formula got hijacked from the early successful Palahniuk novels but, yeah, many books told from the perspective of a male protagonist who is sick of his immoral job, who meets an outsider woman and experiences a strong philosophical shift have the aura of Fight Club about them. I mean, it’s a common trope but perhaps I see it clearer after Palahniuk did it so much better. The Deep Whatsis doesn’t have a Tyler Durden twist and is almost 99% non-violent, but it follows the script and at the end left me feeling like I really needed the protagonist to burn something to the ground because otherwise this book is more or less just a version of several George Clooney movies, like Up in the Air, where the lovable rogue discovers he’s an asshole and learns from the experience and it’s all really heartwarming.

And that’s well and good to a point but sometimes you just want a self-aware asshole to suffer without trying to become a better man.

The Deep Whatsis is the story of Eric Nye, a “Chief Idea Officer” at an advertising agency. That job title is deceptive because what he really does is fire people and make it seem like a really good idea, like if someone ran Al “Chainsaw’ Dunlap, a sociopath if there ever was one, through a Park Slope hipster blender and poured him into a Jello mode constructed by Bret Easton Ellis, with Martin Amis consulting.

Just to be clear: The Deep Whatsis is not a bad novel. I enjoyed reading it. It was entertaining. But when I can easily describe it using so many specific cultural references, it’s hard not to see it as less than original in idea and execution.

Eric is a prick who is actively engaged in the worst sort of corporate cruelty. He’s the person whose back will be against the wall when the revolution is televised. He’s a stereotype – all the characters in this book are stereotypes, and that is why the redemption arc in this book isn’t particularly compelling. Eric Nye callously deprives people of their jobs with little concern for what will happen to them, he is part of a young, monied elite that spends carelessly, guzzles alcohol, drugs and name brands with a ferocious thirst, and he is very clever, handsome and witty. That he has a self-conscious awareness of his essential horribleness is supposed to make him more likable and it actually works because had Eric not known he is a piece of shit, this novel would have been unbearable.

But then enters an intern whose name I can never remember but I’ll look it up again in a minute. Her name really isn’t that important because she’s just a plot device. She cleans Eric’s pipes and he develops an obsession with her as he staggers through his job and social life, and, like when “Jack” encounters Marla in Fight Club, things begin to change for Eric. The impetus for change is unlikely because Eric knows very well he is a despicable human being who fires coworkers so rich people can get richer. He delights in the head games he plays with long-time employees whose lives and careers will never recover when he fires them. Sabine, the pixie girl he falls for, is a borderline personality case who evidently gives amazing blowjobs, is scattered, unstable, and her appeal is never really clear for the reader, but a novel like this cannot exist without a completely deranged and messy girl. The power of DBT-therapy drop outs who manage to captivate even the richest man who can attract the most attractive (and presumably well-medicated) women in the world is becoming such a common literary and cinematic trope that it shouldn’t annoy me as much as it does, but fucking Sabine marks a change in how Eric perceives himself and the morality of his life.

And without spoiling it too much, Eric changes and slides neatly from the role of anti-hero you love to hate into uncomplicated Earnest Man. It is what it is and had Mattei’s writing not been on the mark, the work of an equally self-aware author who clearly knows more about the advertising industry than I could safely absorb without needing someone to punch me savagely in the face, this book would have been just so much pablum, bordering on a romance novel with a male protagonist. Mattei’s prose reflects the glibness of the subject matter yet can also effectively evoke empathy for Eric when he has his long dark seconds of the soul. We need these bones Mattei throws us because navigating Eric Nye is difficult for those of us whose shirts are blue and whose blood has a lovely Red hue. ( )
  oddbooks | Nov 10, 2017 |
Not sure what the point of this book was. I guess I am not hip/boring enough to care about anything detailed in this book, and I a, not surprised the author lives in both NYC and Austin Texas, two of the most phony, elitist, narcissist places, add in the fact that the author worked on a "short film" at Sundance with Robert Redford, and you can pretty much figure out how dry/boring this book is. ( )
  zmagic69 | Jul 27, 2013 |
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The writer of the feature film, Love in the Time of Money, presents a detailed exploration of the insular parts of the contemporary advertising industry in a darkly comic tale that reflects the Brooklyn-based culture of hipster consumerism, obsessive branding and corporate advertising run amok.… (more)

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