Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren
categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Reading Under the Influence
Comments Off on Lundgren’s Lounge: “All Involved,” by Ryan Gattis
All Involved, despite its rather pedestrian title, is an astonishing work of fiction chronicling the events around and in Los Angeles in the six days following the Rodney King verdict. Over two decades after the riots that ensued following the acquittal of the three white LAPD officers, author Ryan Gattis offers up a riveting, nuanced, multi-perspective account of the six days of rage. In the aftermath of recent civil unrest in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore and the inevitable question (raised by mostly white pundits and talking heads), regarding why “these people” would destroy their own neighborhoods as a form of protest, Gattis provides some possible insights… regardless of whether or not it’s what we want to hear.
As the riots began most people hunkered down in their homes, waiting to see what would happen. But gradually the total state of anarchy that prevailed on the streets began to present itself as an opportunity to the gangs whose activities were normally kept in check by the presence of the police. Gattis does not glorify the gangs or their actions: rather he offers a quasi-documentary feel to their thinking and their subsequent reactions. The charismatic leader of one gang, Big Fate, reflects as he watches the news:
“The news switches to a camera on a helicopter, and the sky–man, the sky isn’t even blue or that halfway kind of gray we get on the worst smog days. It looks like wet concrete. A gray so dark it’s almost black. It looks heavy as fuck.
That’s when it hits me I’m staring at a war zone. In South Central…
And this whole entire scene says to me… now’s your fucking day, homie. Felicidades, you won the lottery! Go out there and get wild, it says. Come and take what you can… If you’re bad enough, if you’re strong enough, come out and take it… Cuz the world’s completely flipped, up’s down, down’s up, and badges don’t mean shit…”
Many of the interwoven vignettes are told from the perspective of various gang members. And while Gattis does not shy away from depicting the violent ethos that rules gang culture, he also makes it clear that for many, many members, the gangs are a refuge from the dysfunction that inevitably results from institutionalized racism, poverty and socially-sanctioned police brutality. Most notable among the narrators is Lupe, A.K.A. as Payasa, a 15 year old girl for whom the gang is the only family she knows. Lupe’s brother, Ernesto, a true innocent, is savagely tortured and killed in the novel’s opening scene as retaliation for another brother’s transgressions. But the gang code of honor deems outsiders, like Ernesto, to be off limits, and this violation of that code unleashes a series of escalating reprisals and counterattacks that occur in a wild world ruled solely by the ancient sentiment that “might makes right.”
Most impressive of Gattis’ writing is the verisimilitude and air of authenticity that suffuses the sixteen stories that propel the novel forward. Gattis, quite dispassionately and painstakingly offers a perspective that can help outsiders comprehend the rage that erupts after an event like the Rodney King verdict or the murder of Freddie Gray and the subsequent burning down of neighborhoods. Once you open the first pages and begin reading, you will be transfixed and transported and perhaps a bit more knowing after you turn the final page.
[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”), where you can buy this book and about a million others, from booksellers who care. Bill keeps a bird named Ruby, a blind pug named Pearl, and a couple of fine bird dogs, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College. ]