Eric Nye, the main character in Peter Mattei's The Deep Whatsis, is, quite frankly, an asshole. Hot-shot creative director at a high-brow ad agency in New York, he is being paid scads of money to woo clients for the agency (which he doesn't do), judge creative work created within the agency (which he does, but without applying any reason or sense to his judgements), and fire half the staff by the end of the year (which he does with gusto). He drinks $20 lattes, has fresh fruit delivered to his modern apartment, and prides himself on his detachment from any sense of morals or ethics in the workplace. He is completely unlikeable as a person, as a protagonist, and as a perspective character.
And yet somehow, The Deep Whatsis is hard to put down. Mattei's writing, sparse but powerful, is compelling enough to carry the story of Nye's escapades despite his despicable nature, despite the fact that no one, not even Nye himself, is rooting for Nye.
The story centers on Nye's brief but impactful relationship with a young girl he meets at a party, who shows up at his office the next day as the newest in a series of interns he is not allowed to sleep with. But all plans to avoid her fail, as she texts and calls and emails him, shows up at his office, his apartment, and in his mind, until he is fixated on her, unable to stop thinking of her. The two only meet three times over the course of the entire novel, but Intern (he can't remember her name) is a turning point for Nye, even though he can't put his finger on why that is.
Many readers, I'm sure, will be turned off by Nye's despicable self, and yet his story is powerful, capturing the absurdity of advertising and corporate culture. From bad creative ideas for new ad campaigns to ridiculous HR processes to the harsh realities of cutbacks and layoffs, The Deep Whatsis is the kind of uncomfortable novel I can't stand to read but can't put down. A quick read, it's worth considering for anyone stuck in corporate hell (which thankfully, I am not), immersed in the advertising industry (which I am, but not in an agency like Nye's), or generally questioning the absurdity of the career path and all the sacrifices required to get to the top.
Many thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley of this title to review.
The Deep Whatsis | Peter Mattei | Other Press | July 2013 | Trade Paper | $15.95 | 256 pages