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'The Deep Whatsis ' Offers a Scathing Yet Funny Critique of Corporate Culture

Peter Mattei's 2013 novel echoes Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, AMC's Mad Men, Ayn Rand's characters, and Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, albeit without the violence.

The Deep Whatsis follows corporate shill Eric Nye, the "Chief Ideas Officer", for Tate Advertising Agency. His primary job is to terminate Tate employees on a specific timeline, ultimately receiving a hefty bonus. Nye tells readers that his job is justifiable. Author Peter Mattei, however, paints Nye as emotionally dishonest. This binary encapsulates the character Eric Nye. Nye is materialistic, judgmental, clinically depressed and painfully pretentious. He's an unlikable man-child but has moments of self-awareness that are buried under layers of irony and derision. Mattei excels at developing this character thus Nye embodies a satiric yet scathing critique of corporate culture, apathy, and consumerism.


The Deep Whatsis

Peter Mattei

(Penguin Random House)

July 2013


The novel is funny and the strongest moments of humor come from Nye's own self-deprecation. Nye's corporate machismo is a facade and readers periodically see inklings of self-awareness and acknowledgment of buried emotional truths. For example, Tate's corporate attorney forces Nye to visit a psychologist to mediate any legal conflicts between Nye and Sabine the Intern, Nye's foil. After Nye's diatribe on why his professional success undermines his ability to date, he utters "I guess that's not so weird since the advent of video games and reality television, not to mention that new porno app everybody is talking about, thirty-three is the new nine" (125). Mattei uses these moments to deliver an acerbic censure of popular culture while developing Nye's vulnerabilities.

Written as a first person narrative in the present tense, there's no way of avoiding Nye or finding refuge in a secondary character. Yet his characterization is the strength of The Deep Whatsis. I loathed Nye and this is his point. On the one hand, his constant references to material culture irked me. The frequent references to products such as Rimowa Topas aluminum suitcases, the "$124 bottle of Sancerre" (16) or "a white Eva Zeisel coffee table with a inch-thick glass top" (141) were abundant reminders of Nye's materialistic nature. The constant name-dropping felt too overdone because I understood the point after the first handful of references. Yet on the other hand, I found Nye's hatred of friend Seth Krallman -- who was the embodiment of the westernization of yoga and eastern spirituality -- to deftly problematize cultural appropriation. This is the balance Mattei strikes to successfully pull off a good satire.

Nye has major issues with women. He frequently mentions that he regularly sports a semi-erection but can't decide if he's aroused by beautiful women or if his body is responding to the cocktail of medications he ingests. Despite his indecision, he constantly objectifies women and lacks any ability to see them as real people. This is exemplified by infrequently using their real names. For example, Sabine's name is rarely used while she is referred to as "the Intern" far more often. Due to Tate's corporate regulations, Nye's closest relationship is with a Human Resources employee whom he refers to as "HR Lady". Nye is quick to judge her personal life because she has a long-term boyfriend and has a match.com profile. His frequent negative appraisals of the people in his life led me to constantly want to ask him, so what? why is that character's life bothering you so much, Eric? Mattei reminds readers it is because Nye has "contempt for them because [he has] contempt for this entire industry, [him]self included" (14). My engagement with the character and dislike for Nye reflects Mattei's skill with satire. Nye's derison was Mattei lampooning society's culture of judgement and I completely fell for it.

As the novel progresses, Nye loses control of his life and suffers anxiety attacks severe enough to warrant hospitalization. Here Mattei attempts to develop Nye's character to something more than a corporate louse but the sentimentality doesn't work with the cold-hearted satire. Seemingly out of nowhere, Nye realizes he's "semi-falling in love with her [Sabine], the girl whose name I don't know, or care to know…" (34). This felt forced and weakened the satiric plot. Additionally, we learn that his mother committed suicide when he was younger, thereby indelibly impacting his adult life. Due to the anxiety attacks, Nye swears he's going to change his life. However, there's no development to these character arcs. Here the reader is suppose to feel bad for him, but after spending so much time hating him and with too little character development, it's impossible.

As a whole , The Deep Whatsis feels reiterative. The commentary on consumer culture echoes Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, the spoof of corporate life reflects AMC's series Mad Men, the pathological individualism is reminiscent of Ayn Rand's characters while heralding Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho but without the violence. Certainly The Deep Whatsis would make a satisfying read for fans of these texts. Arguably, Mattei used them s as inspiration but this novel never develops a unique voice for the author.

I didn't love this book but I can see why others might. I'm simply not the right audience for this type of satire. I also don't have a grasp of the cultures Mattei roasts, therefore previous experience to Nye's world would lend itself to enjoying the book. For a reader who has experience with corporate culture or enjoys hating on materialism, then The Deep Whatsis will satisfy.

5
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