Written by Ryan Gattis
Audiobook read by Anthony Rey Perez, Marisol Ramirez, Jim Cooper, Adam Lazarre-White, James Chen
Published by Harper Collins on April 7th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Literary
Source: public library via Overdrive
A propulsive and ambitious novel as electrifying as The Wire, from a writer hailed as the West Coast's Richard Price—a mesmerizing epic of crime and opportunity, race, revenge, and loyalty, set in the chaotic streets of South Central L.A. in the wake of one of the most notorious and incendiary trials of the 1990s
At 3:15 p.m. on April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted three white Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with using excessive force to subdue a black man named Rodney King, and failed to reach a verdict on the same charges involving a fourth officer. Less than two hours later, the city exploded in violence that lasted six days. In nearly 121 hours, fifty-three lives were lost. But there were even more deaths unaccounted for: violence that occurred outside of active rioting sites by those who used the chaos to viciously settle old scores.
A gritty and cinematic work of fiction, All Involved vividly re-creates this turbulent and terrifying time, set in a sliver of Los Angeles largely ignored by the media during the riots. Ryan Gattis tells seventeen interconnected first-person narratives that paint a portrait of modern America itself—laying bare our history, our prejudices, and our complexities. With characters that capture the voices of gang members, firefighters, graffiti kids, and nurses caught up in these extraordinary circumstances, All Involved is a literary tour de force that catapults this edgy writer into the ranks of such legendary talents as Dennis Lehane and George V. Higgins.
I didn’t live in Los Angeles in the spring of 1992, when nearly a week of riots and violence followed the acquittal of four white LAPD officers accused of beating a black man, Rodney King, during a traffic stop. I watched the news reports from 1800 miles away as a relatively new resident of Memphis, Tennessee–a city that’s had its own share of race-related upheavals–and couldn’t have imagined that a decade later, I’d be living in the city where a jury rendered that verdict. But what caught my attention about Ryan Gattis’ novel, All Involved, was its subtitle: “A Novel of the L.A. Riots.” Based on that description, I came to it with a certain set of expectations.
All Involved confounded my expectations in not exactly being about the riots–I didn’t really get the character-based insights into those events that I anticipated. That said, it is unquestionably a novel “of” the riots. Most of the action that occurs during the six days depicted in the novel takes place well away from the city’s embattled South-Central neighborhoods, but the fact that law enforcement was pretty thoroughly occupied elsewhere certainly helped enable the round of vengeance killings among Latino gangbangers that propels the story.
The catalyst for the central narrative thread of All Involved is the unintended killing of a gang member’s sister during a fight at a party, which occurs before the novel opens. The girl’s brother and two of his cronies target Ernesto Vera, the non-involved older brother of gangbanger Lil Mosco, to send a message of retaliation. The message is received, and returned, by Lupe Vera, aka Payasa, who goes after her older brother’s killers with help from her own gang.
As the days of rioting and revenge continue, Gattis’ large cast of characters moves through one another’s experiences as point-of-view shifts frequently; All Involved is told through seventeen narrative voices. These include a nurse and a firefighter dealing with the victims of the violence and their attraction to each other; a graffiti tagger trying to get out the neighborhood before he’s forced into the gang; another neighborhood kid who’s managed, like Ernesto, to remain non-involved with the gang; and an assortment of members and associates of Payasa’s gang. Structurally, this feels more like linked stories than a conventional novel, but the links are strong; many of the characters are siblings or cousins in addition to sharing geography and the makeshift family ties of the gang.
I sometimes found it challenging to keep the characters straight, and for that reason, I think it helped that the audiobook production ofAll Involved is almost a full-cast recording–the seventeen characters are read by six different actors, and it’s hard to imagine this working any other way.
All Involved wasn’t the novel I expected–it turned out to be something far more ambitious, and it was a riveting and eye-opening reading experience. I wanted to know a little more about the person who came up with it, and found some interesting background material on Ryan Gattis’ website. The author of this vivid plunge into L.A.’s Chicano gang life is a white street artist/writing teacher who grew up in a military family and was barely a teenager when the riots occurred. The novel comes from research, not lived experience, and since what it depicts isn’t my own lived experience either, I can’t speak to its accuracy. But I can say that it feels true, and it immersed me in an experience of Los Angeles I’ll never have,
ALL INVOLVED: An Excerpt
“Day 1, Wednesday
“Ernesto Vera, April 29, 1992 8:14 PM
“I’m in Lynwood, South Central, somewhere off Atlantic and Olanda, putting tinfoil over trays of uneaten beans at some little kid’s birthday party when I get told to go home early and prolly not come back to work tomorrow. Maybe not for a week even. My boss is worried what’s happening up the 110 will come donw here. He doesn’t say trouble or riots or nothing. He just says ‘that thing north of here,’ but he means where people are burning stuff and breaking out storefronts and getting beat down. I think about arguing, because I need the money, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I don’t waste my breath. I pack the beans away in the trucks fridge, grab my coat, and leave.
“Earlier in the afternoon when we got there, me and Termite–this guy I work with–saw smoke, four black towers going up like burning oil wells in Kuwait. Maybe not that big, but big. The birthday kid’s half-drunk father sees us notice them as we were setting up tables and he said it was because the cops that beat Rodney King aren’t going to jail for it, and how do we feel about that?”