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L.A. Breakdown

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—Los Angeles, 1967—

With gleaming detail and blinding precision, Lou Mathews freeze-frames a hidden corner of L.A.’s outlaw culture in the moments before it becomes extinct. The heart of the culture is the drive-in, where street racers meet to challenge their rivals and place their bets. This world comes to life after dark, lit by headlights and street lamps, a moveable feast of drag races, peopled with its own lost generation: young men and women who have left high school but have no thoughts of college.

Drifting from one dead end job to another, supplementing their income through thieving, doing the occasional stint in prison, and reluctantly entering the armed services when there is nothing else left, they live, and sometimes die, for the excitement, the danger, the money of racing. In the world of drag racing—fleeting and bittersweet, like the end of summer—the stakes the stakes grow higher and higher as, one by one, each player spins out and disappears from the scene:

Here, we meet Vaca, crippled in soul and body, prefers the armor of his car to a wheelchair. The ex-con Brody—Vaca’s driver—is the best street racer in town. Reinhard, a loner who has no one and nothing but the exquisite machines he builds and races. Charlie, the race organizer who tells the story. And Connie, who rolls her eyes at the whole parade, never without a sarcastic riposte, but who can’t stay away from the boys and their toys.

Stunning, bleakly beautiful, and laugh-out-loud funny, L.A. Breakdown paints a riveting portrait of 1960s Los Angeles, frozen in time yet disintegrating before our eyes with all the reckless speed of romantic era.

“Mathews keeps the reader so firmly focused on horsepower, hand-rubbed black lacquer paint jobs and custom pinstripes that the small epiphanies that unfold here really do sneak up, as surprising and pungent as burning oil.” —Los Angeles Times

Genre: Literary Fiction

Praise for this book

"Having grown up in the Valley myself in the fifties and sixties, remembering well the Bob's Big Boy and the Van de Kamp's, and having even cruised Van Nuys Boulevard even as I was never part of the culture Lou Mathews has caught so evocatively, I nonetheless can attest to how well he caught the feel of the landscape - the way there seemed to be big voids in the psychology of the geography, voids into which you could drive your life, sometimes to dead ends, sometimes off psychic cliffs, as Mathews' characters have done. But just as impressive to me, really, is the array of vivid characters whose destiny seems both defined and betrayed by their wheels - the juxtaposition, for instance, of Reinhard's 'fastest flathead Ford in Tulsa' with a future that just naturally seems fated for incarceration of one sort of another - as well as the developing nuances of all their relationships - Fat Charlie's parallel bonds with Donna and Connie, each trumping the other in some telling way, all while a world of upheaval seeps in around the edges and washes away all the meanings and codes of an experience shared in common for the last time. L.A. Breakdown is a very skillful and assured piece of work, moving and insightful and observant." - Steve Erickson

"A beautiful and uncompromising love letter to doomed knuckleheads everywhere." - Jim Gavin

"What Lou Mathews delivers here is the perfect ethnography of Los Angeles hot rod worship culture in its golden era. His people are the errant working-class knights of the stylized tournaments of street drag racing and the drive-in damsels they adore and neglect, often in about the same breath. The way they talk is dazzling - funny and heart-rending by turns - and always completely real feeling. Among his other great gifts, Mathews possesses an ear as original as Harold Pinter's or David Mamet's." - Carter Wilson

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