The Deep Whatsis is Peter Mattei’s debut novel, with Mattei previously writing and directing the film Love In The Time of Money, and if IMDb is to be believed, writing for Clarissa Explains It All. His novel follows Eric Nye, a man who works at an ad agency, currently aiming to fire half of a department’s workforce for a fat bonus. These firings are carried out with a sociopathic style; the narrator says he conducts thought experiments within them, seeing how people react to different approaches.
Many first time authors struggle to find their own style at first. The parallels between Mattei’s prose and Bret Easton Ellis’s verge on total appropriation – the short sharp sentences, the descriptions of brand name objects; it’s all a little too American Psycho at first.
If you can get past this, however, the short novel is compelling. A young girl, known only as Intern (Nye can’t remember her name) kicks off an important questioning of his own sanity. She performs ‘the deep whatsis’ of the title in a scene that is both funny and creepy. The interactions in the book are mostly very believable. Higher-ups ignoring him, a ‘friend’ who both hates and is hated by him, and ‘creatives’ hired as favours to their parents all come into play, though perhaps Mattei is commenting on Hollywood rather than advertising culture.
Set pieces in hospitals, bedrooms and art galleries are satisfying and often humorous. One section in which Eric Nye meets two rappers and keeps calling them different but rhyming names is really funny. The only thing is that certain references to popular culture don’t sit well; references to rap gang Odd Future just feel weird. At points these may take the reader out of the story; I found myself questioning whether a mid-30s Buddhist tee-totaller who owns an Etsy store making hemp rugs would genuinely listen to anything off of Earl Sweatshirt’s self-released debut.
The book is not without merit, obviously. Several authors have debuted with novels similarly indebted to Bret Easton Ellis and come out the other side having found their voices and writing some spectacular books. Hopefully this is the case with Mattei; there’s a seed of something here, and the book never lacks in terms of narrative. If you’ve exhausted the work of B.E.E, and also read Gavin James Bower’s debut Dazed And Aroused, this may be of interest.