One day Lou Brown decided to kill himself. But when he sat down to craft a suicide letter, the simple act of committing words to the page was like opening up a window to his mind, allowing the whole world to shine. His book went on to become a runaway bestseller, making him a literary icon, earning him all the trappings of the American Dream. It’s now five years later and the obligations that come along with great success have robbed him of the freedom he values above all else. When Lou suspects his fiancé of an infidelity, he moves into the Frontier Motel, setting himself up for a week-long adventure where he’ll once again learn to buck convention, indulge in his honest appetites, and follow his uninhibited instincts.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
High in the Streets, Matthew Binder’s auspicious debut novel, smells like whiskey and cigarettes. Lou Brown, our protagonist of sorts, is a once-successful writer in LA. Several years after hitting it big with his own autobiographical first book, he finds himself at a loss. He has a serious drinking problem, a wife he hardly recognizes in a house he never wanted in the first place, and an ex-athlete best friend, Cliff, who’s in even worse shape than he is.
Lou’s attempts to obliterate his sorrows unfold in a series of funny, surprising, and unexpectedly moving vignettes. He sees himself as one of the many downtrodden, lost souls living in the shadow of Hollywood, but nobody is quite who they seem to be.
Binder’s characters seek redemption everywhere they can: money, fame, narcotic ecstasy, physical fitness, friendship, a father and child reunion. A trendy nightclub and a seedy motel and a beautifully articulated last-chance prizefight. He lures us into Lou’s story with all of its squalid glamor, and then pulls the curtain away to show the open sores beneath the character’s macho posturing and his tragic hero self-image. What happens to someone who just doesn’t fit into mainstream society anymore…and maybe never did? ~ David Lizerbram, www.Sddialedin.com
James Wood wrote that Chekhov understood life to be “a tree of separate hanging stories.” This description returned to me again and again as I read Matthew Binder’s High in the Streets. Wood was referring to Chekhov’s use of detail, but Binder seems to have taken it as compositional principle of his book, which unfurls as a series of incidents, anecdotes, and tall tales.
But this debut novel’s sensibility reflects less Anton Chekhov and more Bret Easton Ellis. Lou Brown, our narrator, formerly destitute, turned his suicide note into a mega-bestselling novel. Five years later, having got his taste of the American Dream, Lou’s self-destructive impulses begin to regain control—this is where High in the Streets begins.
The book unfolds as a series of intertwined stories about trying to find a meaningful yet unconstrained way to live in the world. In these stories, Lou’s marriage dissolves, Lou’s best friend tries to get his kid back, Lou shacks up in a motel with some freewheeling women, Lou gets drunk at Venice Beach, and so on. Within each of these stories, Lou has plenty of side-stories to share of his own, about his parents or his old dog or a guy he met once at a bar. And Binder allows the people Lou meets to tell stories of their own—some real, some phony. The raconteurish quality of the book is the best thing about it. Lou (and, by extension, Binder) clearly delights in all the stories he has to tell, and the reader delights in them too.
Lou’s a true American hero, a rags-to-riches lover of freedom, a friend to scumbags and losers, always ready with a clever rejoinder. He’s also a fairly rotten person in a book full of fairly rotten people. Lou alternates between narcissism and self-loathing, with repellent opinions of women. Where you stand on the book will depend on how much irony you see in its protagonist.
For example, at one point, Lou gets a job as a substitute teacher. When he’s promptly fired for intimidating a student and scoffs at the ineffectuality of the public school system, are we scoffing with him, or at him? The book would benefit from making the answer clearer. The immediacy and immersion of first-person-present narration requires a subtle touch to allow the reader to distinguish the novel’s point of view from its character’s. In this way, High in the Streets could use a subtler touch.
In other ways, it could be far noisier. For a novel about searching for freedom, one wishes the prose would be freer, wilder, less flat and workmanlike and more manic and unhinged, capable of doing anything, saying anything, going anywhere. However, the writing, such as it is, is never obstructive, clearing the way for a funny, entertaining, and story-rich book. ~ Kevin Zambrano, Arcadia Magazine
Former local musician Matthew Binder (Hotel St. George) has crafted quite the anti-hero in Lou Brown, the decidedly despicable if not entirely loveable chap at the center of High in the Streets, Binder’s first novel. Set over a week in the vapid fantasyland of L.A., Brown is trying desperately to pen the follow-up to his bestselling debut. He’s got the money, the hottie girlfriend and the posh house, but inspiration just doesn’t come. He spends most of his time getting drunk with washed-up baseball players and legless homeless men before scribbling random catharses like, “It’s nearly impossible to live the life one has intended for here in America” on the back of junk mail. Will inspiration come? Or will Brown just end up finishing the job of killing himself? The drunken novelist looking for inspiration isn’t the most novel of novel ideas, but Binder does spin a nice yarn. “I’m not certain I have any answers, but I believe there is value in my meaningfully fumbling with it,” says Binder’s protagonist at one point. And indeed he does. ~ Seth Combs, San Diego Citybeat Magazine
"High in the Streets is by turns hilarious, moving, and raw. A gritty tour de force that takes the best aspects of James Salter, Norman Mailer, and Bret Easton Ellis to heart, Binder's novel is an accomplished debut by a writer with a singular, animated voice, attuned to the strange rhythms and desperation of latter-day Los Angeles and the people who live there." ~ Michael Abolafia, New York Review Books
“Binder is a born storyteller, and his novel is as philosophically astute as it is hilariously funny. We can expect great things from this wild new voice.” ~ Clancy Martin, a Guggenheim Fellow and the Pushcart Prize-winning author of the books How to Sell (FSG), Love & Lies (FSG), Bad Sex (Tyrant)
“High in the Streets is pure narrative, one sublimely strange event after another. My favorite parts are the stories within the story, those plump nuggets of secondary or tertiary narrative, rendered with seeming ease and worn so lightly. In the right hands—i.e., in hands like Matthew Binder’s—they could each spin off and become narratives of their own. Binder’s talent for invention is real, and it is substantial.” ~ Lary Wallace, Features editor of Bangkok Post: The Magazine