Mateo Monda’s novel, Midtown Madhatter, centers on the life of Peter “Petey” Walsh, who reconnects with his childhood buddies after a decade spent in Mexico.
Petey hasn’t seen his partners in crime since he left Seattle to forget about a girl— then found another girl and married her. A chance to reconnect arrives when his buddy John “Jackie” Collins is getting married in Manhattan.
While Petey has two children with his beautiful wife and a somewhat thriving business, he’s also an alcoholic and addict; not surprisingly, his marriage is troubled. “We both knew that she wasn’t going to go to New York with me, even though she was invited to Jackie Collin’s wedding as well,” Petey notes. “She tended to disagree with some of my behavior, and on this trip, I had no intention of behaving at all.”
Petey’s alcohol and drug-fueled romp through the wedding week is described in exacting detail and includes everything from the narrator’s messy bathroom problems to various methods of ingesting cocaine; some readers might find the lurid passages hard to stomach at times. As a narrator, Petey aims for humor and an endearing self-awareness, but often he simply engenders pity for someone so deeply in denial of how he’s wrecking his life and those around him.
Monda’s writing is strong and fluid, easily drawing readers into Petey’s mundane yet vivid world of friendships with man-boys as addicted to booze and drugs as he is. The book ends on a hopeful note, but the conclusion seems somewhat contrived and is frustratingly inconclusive about whether Petey has changed. This just might be the author’s intent.
Near the end, Petey sums up the story’s potential pitfall for readers: “If I were someone else watching this scene, I’m sure I would’ve been appalled by the fucking drug addicts getting high down there. But because I was the one with the straw in his hand, it was all good: good friends, good coke, good times.”