Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: "All Involved" by Ryan Gattis

I can’t describe the true horror of the first few pages of All Involved, what I hope becomes the breakthrough novel of Ryan Gattis. I won’t spoil it here, but it ranks with the flaying alive scene in Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in brutality and cruelty. This event also paints a perfect picture for not only this book, but also the short time period it is fictionalizing, the LA Riots in the early 90’s after the Rodney King verdict. What sets the book apart from what might have been a tired political screed is that it is barley mentioned in the proceedings (although it is impossible for the reader not to think about as the story progresses), and it’s subsequent events only act as a catalyst for the violence to come. The reaction I had throughout reading this incendiary novel, aside from shock and disgust, was true awe as Gattis switches seamlessly from viewpoints, inhabiting them fully and never shying away from ugliness or sentimentality. Through the eyes of gangbangers, innocent victims, and people using the riots, and a lack of police protection, to satisfy their need for violence, we watch the events unfold over six days, six days where a normal society ceased to exist, and whole different world emerged for a short period of time. There are no central characters here; just 17 first person accounts of what happened, and I will do my best to describe them to you without spoiling any pertinent details. It begins with the aforementioned violent act, and through this we meet the unfortunate victims sister, Lupe a gang member with a violent streak who will commit equally atrocious acts to avenge her sibling. We also get into the heads of a few members of her gang, including the leader, Fate, whose both pragmatic and homicidal, Clever, the only one of the gang who has some college education, who nihilistic attitude promises his potential will be wasted, and Lil’ Mosco, the brother of Lupe, who committed a murder a few weeks earlier that is at the root of all the chaos. We also meet members of the rival gang, who are on a collision course with their enemy, leading to a set piece that is inventive disturbing and even more heartbreaking since we know the perpetrators and victims inside and out. While this conflict is at the center of the novel, and its driving force, Gattis also takes time out to describe outsiders as well, from a group of Korean vigilantes whose outcome is both comical and unjust, to a firefighter and nurse, who must deal with the violence first hand, and must make the best of their awful circumstances. And throughout this, I kept thinking of the title, which may sound corny, but is really truthful. People die here at the hands of other people, but it is maddeningly impossible to trace the source of its violence and in the end, everyone is involved here is responsible. There is little resolution here, and it ends with a somber, depressing act followed by the small chance of hope, but Gattis has achieved something special with this novel. It is a dark look into one of America’s most violent incidents, and Gattis does so with talent, respect and fearlessness.

Rating: 5/5

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