Review: The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei


The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei. Other Press. 250 pp.

What would you do if you were an über-rich, super-successful ad exec who was hired by a firm simply to lay off half of its work force? If you meet your quota (that is, if you fire enough people) by the deadline, you and the head of HR each get a hefty bonus. Everyone hate-slash-fears you for this, and when you do the math you can’t help but realize that if you refused your bonus, it would cover all the terminated people’s salaries for the remainder of the year.

Do you handle your guilt so “well” that you’re on a combination of about five different medications in order to keep yourself functioning from day to day? Do you lie to your shrink just to see how much you can get him to believe? Do you have panic attacks on a regular basis? Do you fool around with an inappropriately-young intern then demand that she, too, is fired? Do the faces of the people whose livelihoods you destroy haunt you? Eric Nye, our mind-blowingly dysfunctional narrator, does all of these things and more. So much more. He screws with his employees’ heads in a variety of ways to keep them off the scent of their upcoming layoffs. He tells one guy he’s up for a promotion (ha! just kidding!), snubs another in order to make him work harder, and gives one woman bogus assignments at the end of the day for a “meeting” the next morning. Then he fires them all. Of the logic behind this, he says,

…I thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition to compare their reactions back to back. I mean this whole business is pure evil, why sugarcoat it? In fact, why not broadcast it?

And broadcast he does. This is one of the most twisted tales I’ve read in a while. The book reminded me of a Chuck Palahniuk/Bret Easton Ellis cocktail (though, to be fair, I didn’t finish Glamorama, the only Bret Easton Ellis novel I’ve picked up). Palahniuk makes me queasy, but I read him anyway, and that’s sort of how I felt about The Deep Whatsis. (Please note that this book, while in the same vein as the others mentioned, isn’t quite at their level. And not just because of the ridiculous number of comma splices.)

All in all: Read if you’ve read everything by Palahniuk and are looking for something similar to read. Don’t read if you don’t like sex, drugs, and pure evil in your books. It’s not that this book is bad, but I can’t think of a single person I know to recommend it to, and I know lots of different types of people. It’s just not the best of its ilk.