It’s Brett Easton Ellis meets Joshua Ferris in Peter Mattei’s satire, The Deep Whatsis.
You might think that I’d had enough of over-privileged Gen-Y brats after The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. but the caustic humour and the extreme ridiculousness of character Eric Nye well and truly had me turning the pages.
The Deep Whatsis follows antihero, Eric – he’s self-indulgent, a player, apparently sensationally successful and rich, full of self-importance and (interestingly) self-loathing – all in all, quite detestable. His world is fast-paced and emotionally empty – he works in advertising, lives amongst Brooklyn hipsters and is a poster-boy for gross consumerism and a wasteful lifestyle.
“I sit in a deck chair and face away from the beach; something about the ceaseless idiocy of one wave after another strikes me as profoundly unimaginative.”
One night he crosses paths with a woman who he later discovers is an intern at his ad agency. For the first half of the book he doesn’t remember her name (it’s Sabine) but nonetheless, she changes the course of his future – is it love? Will Sabine lead to his downfall? Is she stalking him?
Eric’s role at the agency (his title is the ludicrous ‘Chief Ideas Officer’) is actually about firing people.
“But I was the one at the helm, with my year-long schedule of lay-offs, my Outlook calendar entries, and alerts. Outlook was my faena, my sword.”
Teaming with a woman from human resources (‘HR Lady’), Eric spends his days laying the groundwork for terminating employee contracts and it is these scenes that truly shine (in particular, the character of Henry is brilliantly rendered).
“The campaign is doing well in the marketplace, too, but that’s not really the point. The point is, Henry was old and he wore pleated Dockers, which I told him not to wear but he did anyway.”
Mattei drops names and scatters pop-cultures references like hundreds-and-thousands on fairy bread. They’re everywhere. It’s exhausting reading. Which is the point. Instead of being annoyed by the style remind yourself that it’s a satire and therefore sentences such as the following, are okay –
“That night we all go out to dinner at Koi. After the edamame steamed in Finnish lake ice slow-melted over smoking Brazilian rosewood, I step out and call Sabi’s number again…”
“Crossing east along Delancy and over the Williamsburd Bridge into my hood I suggest to Seth that we get a cocktail at the Hotel del Homo, on Berry Street on the North Side. It isn’t a gay bar, but that’s what I call it, because the cocktails are ridiculously bespoke.”
“…and a matching Albert Right-Facing Chaise, in front of them a white Eva Zeisel coffee table with an inch-thick glass top. (I ordered it custom because I felt the three-quarter inch standard glass top was too thin for the base, it just looked wrong.) ”
Eric’s constant cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol make him a suitably unreliable narrator – is he playing others or is he being played? Mattei strings it out until the very end however the reveal was just a shade too conventional and a little too neat for my liking. There was one particular moment (where Eric chooses to keep an important bit of information to himself) that really didn’t sit right with me – it took the ending a little too far and seemed out-of-character, yet I suspect Mattei was trying to show the reader that Eric was a changed man. Furthermore, I wasn’t entirely convinced of the motivation of the various characters who contribute to the final scenes.
My take-away message? I did like Mattei’s thoughts on corporate culture and society’s ceaseless need to consume. Lines such as “…advertising is how corporations outsource their lies” and the idea that technology is “…taking away the fundamental truths about our humanity and making us pay to get them back” are uncomfortably close to the truth.
3/5 Read it if only to discover what ‘the deep whatsis’ actually is.
I received my copy of The Deep Whatsis from the publisher, Harper Collins via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Hmmm… Should I team this book with a Fisherman’s Friend lozenge….? No, it’s pure but biting fluff and so although there are absolutely no references in the story to lemon snow, that’s what I’m suggesting – try this one served with a basil custard sauce.