Monday, 8 February 2016

All Involved, by Ryan Gattis

A hypnotic, sprawling narrative of crime and opportunity, revenge, violence, race and loyalty, set in the chaotic streets of  LA's Southlands. It's April 1992 and the city authorities have just acquitted four police officers of using 'excessive violence' against the black taxi driver, Rodney King. The novel follows the aftermath of the ruling; a city plagued by deadly gang violence at the best of times, LA has descended into riots, drugs and flames, a free-for-all for violence and a golden opportunity to settle old scores.

All Involved begins with a sudden and sickening act of seemingly random violence. A boy, Ernesto- not affiliated with any gang, not 'involved', is walking home through Lynwood, South Central Los Angeles after putting in 12 hours at a taco truck. Ernesto is saving up for some wheels and hopefully, eventually, a route out of LA. Elsewhere, the city unravels; 24 hour news shows Los Angeles pulling itself to pieces via riots, arson, murder and one of the biggest and most violent incidents of civil unrest in America's history.

I loved this book- I loved how immediate and visceral the action is. I love how one event, miles away in a courtroom somewhere has a knock on effect, and that results in Ernesto's killing. An eye for an eye mentality sees Ernesto avenged, leading to more and more bloodshed- and on and on. Scores are settled, opportunities are seized. A chance to claim something back, to smash and grab. With the city's law enforcement well and truly scattered to the wind, it's gangster open season.

Gattis tells seventeen interconnected first-person narratives over the six days of the riots, each individual narrating their account of a few moments or a day of the riots. I loved how characters known to the reader would pop up in other characters' narratives as unknowns, sometimes threats, sometimes mysteries, sometimes just in passing. I loved that nobody had a full picture of what was happening, but the reader has the closest thing. I liked how the repercussions of actions and events flowed outwards, impacting on characters and affecting their decisions and behaviour. It wasn't so much a ripple, but a web of interconnecting stories, a neighbourhood full of individuals connected by shared (but unknown) fates. Most of these voices are gang affiliates, some, such as Gloria the nurse and Anthony the fireman are baffled emergency service professionals, desperately trying to bale out their sinking city with a paper cup.

Despite what's now a historical setting (doesn't that make you feel old?) the novel remains thoroughly relevant in both the US, evoking current campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter and in the UK. It was not long ago that Mark Duggan's death resulted in London riots (albeit on a smaller, less deadly and much less assault-rifle bearing scale). The book closely scrutinises America's culture of Immigration and integration, or lack thereof, its violent underclass of marginalised, impoverished masses with nothing to lose, its culture of violence and obsession with guns. All Involved is such a thought provoking book- well crafted, gripping and filled with fascinating characters. I found myself sympathising with gang members, for their lack of choices and their losses, for their short childhoods and even shorter adulthoods. Gattis is a skillfull writer and a brilliant world-builder, and I very much recommend this unusual book. Particularly good for fans of TV's Southlands.

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