Book Review: The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei

By his own admission Eric Nye is an asshole, ‘and not loyal to anyone, not even [him]self.’ He’s what you’d get if American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman and Mad Men‘s Don Draper gave birth to a man-child. “Chief Idea Officer” at Tate, a New York City ad agency, the bonus on top of Eric’s already six figure salary is dependent on him firing 50% of his staff – a task that he carries out with “HR Lady”, relishes and draws out for his own entertainment.

‘We pretend with each other in big, long sighs that it was difficult work, very hard, we would go out afterwards and have a nice meal and get shitfaced and take limos home and expense it because of how difficult it was.’

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SO; all appears to have been going as well as could be expected in the life of Eric Nye until “Intern” entered his life. After an almost one night stand, Eric finds that despite the fact he can’t remember her name, she’s now interning at his agency. Intern soon begins to stalk him, turning up wherever he may be to the point where Eric starts to question who’s stalking whom. For no logical reason, he can’t seem to get her out of his head, leading to his slow unravelling… Another chance encounter leads to a complaint against him being filed with HR, but there’s something about Eric that makes it very difficult to believe everything he’s telling you.  Is the intern to have a cathartic effect on him?

Eric is a darkly fascinating character. A guy who says things like ‘For no reason I consider hitting on birch-like juice girl but I fear there is too high a chance she will say yes‘, and ‘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 imaginative‘, and who dismisses a beautiful view of the New York skyline as it’s ‘trying too hard.’ That he’s a jackass is no question, but he’s a hilarious jackass. Or at least I thought so. Even when he’s making certain staff members jump hoops, knowing full well he’s about to fire them, you can’t help but laugh because his cruel indifference knows no bounds (especially because at the office, when he’s not firing people, he does absolutely nothing).

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Living in a false world devoid of any real interactions, Eric struggles with his ‘unalterable inability to deal with [his] unreality.’ It doesn’t appear like he’s able to stay still; restless, deeply jaded and dissatisfied with what life has to offer:

‘Waiting, I realise, isn’t the time between things, it’s the thing itself.’

There are deep echoes of American Psycho here, but if you find the endless listing of material possessions to be boring, you’re missing the point entirely. That listing is what makes American Psycho a classic. The essential difference between Nye and Bateman is that Nye is mocking himself when he reels off his material possessions, aware of some of the absurdities, whereas Bateman loved himself (interestingly, Nye experiences self-loathing) and his possessions; full stop. What struck me as being quite amusing is that Eric neither desires or needs any of these ridiculously expensive items he owns, but he buys them because he can, and often bespoke so he can prove a point.

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For all that Eric lacks in character, he makes up for with the precision of his societal observations. He mocks the Brooklyn hipsters in a way that is so scathing, so sharp; I could not have articulated it better myself:

‘Never before have I seen so many people in one place who are exactly the same: the same age, the same race, the same wardrobe, the same facial hair, the same taste in music, socioeconomic background, college experience, shoes, political beliefs, and hair; but I suppose what really unites them is the shared fantasy that they are rebels.’

He goes to an art show called “Show Us Your Tits!” which features ‘lots of photos (taken, it seems, by anyone who can push the button on a camera) of girls flashing their breasts…I can’t decide if I like this show because it’s not really art at all, it’s just stupid, or if maybe I hate this shit because it’s trying so hard not to be art and there’s nothing more arty than that.’ Haha. Every major city has these hubs; in London the equivalent is Shoreditch/ Hackney.

Underneath the layers of dark wit and narcissism is an intelligent commentary on corporate America where we are told that ‘Advertising is how corporations outsource their lies.’

‘You see, what I think is interesting about what I do is that I personally don’t believe in what I do, or should I say that I believe very strongly that technology is actually destroying us as human beings, it’s taking away the fundamental truths about our humanity and making us pay to get them back: it’s called Creating Value.’

Without spoiling too much, the example he uses was quite an eye opener for me, showing how we have learned to buy back what was fundamentally ours to begin with.

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This is a highly entertaining read that is, in parts, hilarious, and although Eric is indeed an asshole of the highest degree (as it says on the spine of the novel, he’s ‘a character you’ll either love or hate. Probably hate.’) I couldn’t help but be taken in by his unashamed self-centredness.  And what, exactly, is the Deep Whatsis? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out.

I received my copy of The Deep Whatsis from the publisher (Other Press) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

New York Times 10 Best Books of 2012….meh

So I wasn’t blown away by this list if I’m honest. I’m not eager to buy any of these titles though I do own Jim Holt’s ‘Why Does the World Exist?’ (it was a free book acquired during an internship; can’t say no to a free book). The only books from this year that I’m eager to read are ‘The Art of Fielding’ by Chad Harbach and ‘This Is How You Lose Her’ by Junot Diaz. What have been your favourite books of this year (if any)? Or like me, do you find that you read random and sometimes obscure books from any time period?

The 5 Books You Take to Heaven…

I’ve recently been overwhelmed by the number of books on my bookshelf and by how many I’m yet to read. And I started thinking, if it all came to an end and I was only allowed to take 5 books through the Gates of Heaven with me, which would I take? Tough decisions and ruthless cuts to be made.

My first two choices were a no-brainer,

1) We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin

2) American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho

American Psycho

Both really fascinating books that I’m sure a lot of you have already read, so I’m not going to go into much detail. I’ve read both of them about two or three times already and each time I read them it’s as if it were for the first time. I think a good book is one where with each read you discover something you haven’t noticed before, and one that also doesn’t offer answers but affirms that seeking them is a necessary part of our humanity. And my opinions of both Kevin Katchadourian and Patrick Bateman, in Shriver’s and Ellis’s novels respectively, are not solid, they’re always changing and I still don’t fully understand them and their motivations; that’s why I keep reading.

The rest of my choices were a little harder to pinpoint. You kinda have to be tactful about this because your favourite books aren’t necessarily the most obvious of choices. And presumably you also wanna laugh whilst you’re in heaven (or hell, whichever direction you’re likely to be heading in, haha). So, with that in mind, my next two choices are:

3)      E: A Novel – Matt Beaumont

E: A Novel

E: A Novel

I know E is probably a highly obscure choice, but that book is one of VERY few where I’ve found myself constantly laughing out loud or smiling to myself, even on train commutes where people just eye you awkwardly. The entire book is made up of emails between backstabbing colleagues at an advertising firm in central London. There are very few writers who can capture tone and dialogue like this. I’m not sure if the humour is explicitly British and so therefore less funny for others, but Beaumont really captures the true dynamics of an office (anywhere in the world) with ragingly funny characters (ones that we recognise from our own offices) that will remain with me for a very long time. Completely unputdownable; absolutely brilliant.

4) Magical Thinking: True Stories – Augusten Burroughs

Magical Thinking

Magical Thinking

I was very recently reminded of Augusten Burroughs when reading Jaclyn’s blog (an Augusten Burroughs super fan) and what she says about him is so true, that I realise I couldn’t go to heaven without one of his books in my bag. You read just one of Augusten’s books, and the refreshing ease with which he writes makes you instantly want to know what else he’s written. The most obvious choice would have been his memoir, Running with Scissors (because you really can’t make his childhood story up), but I think the numerous short stories in Magical Thinking would keep me company for longer, dipping in and out of the random hilariousness of his darkly amusing stories. He’s witty, sarcastic, self-centred and very honest. Can’t go wrong.

5)      Which Brings Me to You – Julianna Baggott & Steve Almond

Which Brings Me to You

Which Brings Me to You

You might not have heard of this book before, but I figure heaven wouldn’t be much fun without a little bit of romance.

Jane and John (yes, really) are of the same kind: ‘I’m not sure there’s a name for us. I suspect we’re born this way: our hearts screwed in tight, already a little broken. We hate sentimentality and yet we’re deeply sentimental. Low-grade Romantics. Tough but susceptible.’

They meet at a wedding and have nameless almost-sex in the coat room. Before proceeding, they decide to exchange letters and tell each other everything about their romantic pasts. In alternating chapters, we learn of the experiences that brought them to this point and if, when they finally meet again, the unflinching truth has been too much: ‘My past is littered with regret, and I’d rather not add you to it. I’d rather not have to fit you into an overcrowded memory.’

This is one of those rare things that is romantic fiction written to a high standard (E.L. James take note). This is romance for the jaded generation, quietly witty and cynically optimistic.

I’ve tried to keep it to 5, but as this is my list I can change the rules when I like, and I’d like to add one more book as a backup. Just in case my bags get lost on the journey or something.

6)      Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine

Don't Let Me Be Lonely

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

I had to read this in one of my poetry classes back in university and it’s just really stuck with me. Difficult to place this in a specific genre, but it’s written in prose, not verse, and could even be described as an essay; but let’s call it poetry for the purpose of this post.

It’s quite political in nature, has a focus on loneliness and death, and is also quite critical of American society and the idea of The Self that exists in contemporary America. It’s thoroughly engaging, beautifully written and the ideas she explores are really challenging.

Here’s an example from an extract where she’s visiting the Museum of Emotions in London, and she has to play a game, in which she is asked “Were you terribly upset and did you find yourself weeping when Princess Diana died?”:

‘I told the truth and stepped on the NO tile. I was not allowed to continue. The museum employee, who must have had a thing with shame, looked away as I stepped down. Walking out, I couldn’t help but think the question should have been, Was Princess Diana ever really alive? I mean, alive, to anyone outside of her friends and family – truly? The English were very distraught over her death. On the television they showed thousands of mourners leaving flowers in front of the palace. Weren’t they mourning the protection they felt she should have had? A protection they’ll never have? Weren’t they simply grieving the random inevitability of their own deaths?’

Like I said, it gets you thinking; really fascinating stuff.

So that’s my reading list for heaven. Something for every mood. So I wanna know, what’s your 5??

Is this the Average American Male??

If you’re the type who gets easily offended I’d stay clear of this book, you will only get mad. The cover warns you that this book has sexually explicit content, and indeed it does. Really does. There isn’t a single paragraph that deviates from the subject of sex. I, personally, don’t offend easily and can see humour in almost anything, but even I was tested at times.

Average?

Average?

Chad Kultgen is the guy who wrote this book, The Average American Male. In the ‘About the author’ section it says he studied at USC, that he lives in California and that this is his first book. We know nothing else about Chad before reading this book (unless of course you decide to Google him or something). Although after reading, I had come to the conclusion that this was a very sick and perverted man, albeit a very funny, sick and perverted man.

But then, if I’m to believe what he’s telling me, this is precisely how the average American male thinks and behaves, how their minds operate. And due to globalisation, the term ‘American’ can be extended to describe all men residing in the Western World.

The unnamed narrator has a girlfriend, Casey, whom he cannot stand; too clingy, physically not up to scratch and isn’t up for sex all the time. She manages to rope him into planning a wedding for a marriage that he doesn’t want and did not ask for and has no intention of going through with. After finding his way out of this situation he goes on to find every guy’s Dream Girl, Alyna, one with an insatiable appetite for sex and a love of video games. Naturally. And so we follow him through his sexual exploits in a world that revolves around him and the constant need to be sexually gratified.

It would be too obvious to say this book was written for guys. Although I might be trying to read too much into this narcissistic drivel and this is precisely what it is: bedtime reading for teenage boys.

*SPOILER* The closing scene describes the narrator resignedly asking Alyna to marry him: ‘Her lack of hesitation as she accepts disgusts me.’ I honestly burst out laughing when I read that. Though the message may be bleak, there is a sliver of truth here with regards to this notion of the purpose of human life and what it means. Kultgen appears to be touching on the idea that we search for meaning through these milestones borne of tradition. One cannot simply be and instead looks for meaning through the ‘next step’, whether that be further education, marriage, children; whatever. We’re all haunted by the question, ‘What more is there in life?’, and this unending search for the intangible continues.

Underneath the sex, the kink, and all the vulgarity, and maybe even despite of all this, you can’t deny that he’s darkly amusing. Ok, very darkly amusing. He may be one of the most narcissistic fictional (?) characters you’ll ever have the displeasure of meeting, but you certainly won’t forget him.

Maybe it’s just me.

 

Love…in 185 definitions.

fraught, adj.

Does every “I love you” deserve an “I love you too”? Does every kiss deserve a kiss back? Does every night deserve to be spent on a lover?

If the answer to any of these is “No,” what do we do?

Ever read a book that was miraculously able to pinpoint feelings you’ve had but have never expressed out loud, or described moments you’ve experienced that you thought were unique to you? Well if you haven’t, I suggest you give The Lover’s Dictionary’ by David Levithan a go.

This book is…well, it’s different. For a start it’s a dictionary that passes for a novel. We travel from A right through to Z, going through entries that give us insight into the ups and downs of the nameless (male) narrator’s relationship with his unnamed girlfriend.

What makes the reading process so rewarding is that the story is obviously not told in full and is not written chronologically. A lot is left unsaid allowing your imagination to fill in the gaps. Through these anecdotes/entries you learn so much more about these two people than if it were a full blown novel.

breach, n.

I didn’t want to know who he was, or what you did, or that it didn’t mean anything.

This is a love story that doesn’t hold back. All those little nuances of a relationship (both successful and failing) are detailed, making the story unique yet universal. I don’t want to reveal anymore because a lot of the delight in reading this comes from how the story unfolds; alphabetically. 

Photo: thyaudaciousness.blogspot.com

Interestingly, this book works very well as an ebook. I read it on my kindle and found I had a greater understanding and appreciation of what was being said because I could just touch my screen to find the full definition of more complex words. You could, of course, simply pull out a dictionary from your shelf, but all that hassle when you can just touch.

encroach, adj.

The first three nights we spent together, I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t used to your breathing, your feet on my legs, your weight in the bed. In truth, I still sleep better when I’m alone. But now I allow that sleep isn’t always the most important thing.

This book is funny and it’s sad, but most of all, it’s real. Read it.

D’ya have any favourite words/entries from this dictionary?

Photo: the-lovers-dictionary.tumblr.com

The Sadness that comes with Cake – Aimee Bender

I’ve just spent the better part of the last two days reading Aimee Bender’s ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’. The quirky title is what lured me in, and I can honestly say that it’s been a while since I’ve been so wrapped up in a story that a book becomes unputdownable (hence why I haven’t posted here in some time). This book has left me intrigued, confused and undeniably sad.

At the age of 9, Rose Edelstein discovers that she can taste her mother’s emotions in a slice of home-made lemon-chocolate cake. Where before she was cheerful and capable, Rose learns that her mother tastes of sadness, despair and desperation. So begins a life where for Rose, an average meal can become an intimate moment of revelation.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

This gift of being able to read the feelings of the people who prepared the food she consumes is quite unsettling and results in Rose growing up very quickly, becoming an almost adult-child. The book follows her journey as she struggles with this gift, exploring the dynamics of her family: the father who is always there but never present, the sad mother who is always smiling, and the older brother who does not like to be touched.

I admit that I have a predilection for tales of dysfunctional families, but the Edelsteins are quietly dysfunctional: soundlessly desperate and unhappy yet not prepared for anything to change. Rose, wise beyond her years, is an excellent narrator who builds a stagnant world of surface where sadness and loss continue to permeate the air long after the last page has been read.

I recommend this book because I didn’t fully understand it, and for me, those are the kinds of books that stay with you. Let me know what you think!

Visiting Jennifer Egan’s ‘Goon Squad’.

You know a book is good when you’re asked to describe it and the first words that come out of your mouth are ‘I can’t even tell you what it’s about…’ This is precisely how I’ve been responding to questions about Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’.

do know how to construct a basic sentence (more or less), but in my defence, even the publishers (Corsair, Constable & Robinson) seemed to have a hard time explaining. This brings me to Exhibit A, the book’s blurb (which is vague at best):

“…vividly captures the moments where lives interact, and where fortunes ebb and flow. Egan depicts […] the sad consequences for those who couldn’t fake it during their wild youth – madness, suicide or prison – in this captivating, wryly humorous story of temptation and loss.”

Yeah. What did I say?

The book is split into 13 chapters, each dedicated to a single character. These characters are so random, and their lives equally so, yet the subtle way in which Egan links one to the other is so precise, so surprising, so utterly perfect.

You move from the life of a record producer with no sex drive, to a kleptomaniac half-heartedly seeking help, to that of a dictator’s publicist etc. You can’t make this stuff up. The book is funny; there’s no doubt about it, but it’s a dark humour that underlines the undeniable pathos of the characters’ lives. It’s so bizarre, yet so real.

I highly recommend this, if only to hear you say to someone else ‘I can’t even tell you what it’s about.’

If you’ve read this already, let me know what you thought! Only if you can articulate this of course! haha

The Goon Squad

The Goon Squad