Saturday, June 18, 2016

Review: "Bullies" by Alex Abramovich

A book like Bullies, the debut memoir of writer Alex Abramovich, is sure to be compared to Hunter S. Thompson’s famous book on the Hell’s Angels. Since I have not read that, I cannot attest to any comparisons made between the two. All I can say is that this book was an exciting, thrilling and informative jolt that I have needed for the past month and a half, and the right kind of book to end on before my next block of reading begins in a week. Knowing little about the subject matter, minus a quick tour of the East Bay Rats Facebook page, I found this book that dives headfirst into the violent and aggressive world of a modern day motorcycle gang to be a pleasant mixture of many different kinds of writing, and it exceled spectacularly at all of them. It begins in a rather familiar place, than drops us in a world that is both scary and fascinating in its intricacy and ends up being a rather tragic view of our times as well as the psyche of people who find acceptance, tolerance and brotherhood in such a place. That relatable beginning is right in the title: Alex and Trevor, “his friend” who eventually became the president of the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club, begin as foes in the fourth grade. They get in fights in the middle of class, and when they move away from each other, Alex is left with poor memories of this boy, who grows into a rather big and rather violent man. They strike up a shaky friendship as Alex moves from his native New York to the crime-ridden city of Oakland, where the club is headquartered. Alex quickly establishes a rapport with everyone, and immerses himself in the world of the Rat, which include promoted boxing fights, one of which, is between a member named Meathead Eric and Vice founder Gavin McInnes, as well as the random fights that breakout in the club owned bar, The Ruby Room, with the most memorable one being a rather sad outing where a crack head is chased and beaten. As Alex gets to know this group better, he begins to do a little research on Oakland itself, and the story he tells also becomes about the city and its violent sad history, including its loose connections to the rise of outlaw culture (which in turn gave rise to things as varied as Marlon Brando and The Beatles), which makes it the perfect place for the East Bay Rat, and people like his childhood foe Trevor, who he begins to suspect is a sociopath whose tough upbringing makes him predisposed to like violence and chaos. I think Abramovich is trying to make a statement about masculinity and its painful intersection with carnage, but it is simply not as fascinating as the story he is telling, which I found myself lost in, especially towards the tumultuous end, which includes a rather grim murder trial connected with famous member of the Nation of Islam, and finally, the Occupy protests, which, viewed through Abramovich’s passive lens, is really just an excuse to let off some steam and cause mayhem, with it ending in not only a senseless death, but oddly enough, a wedding and a scary image of a guy carrying a broomstick with a claw hammer tapped the end. This is a book that doesn’t proved lofty or concrete answers to the problems it presents, but it is still a very intense and voyeuristic look at one of America’s most folkloric subcultures.

Rating: 5/5

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