This is a guest review by Dave McGinn, thanks Dave! You can follow Dave on twitter here or check out his blog here.
If, like me, you’re too young to remember the 1992 Rodney King police brutality case and the riots that followed, then like the first Gulf War and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal it probably exists for you primarily as a cultural and temporal reference point for films set in the early nineties. It was however a significant event in American cultural history which highlighted very live – and still unresolved – issues of racial tension, police brutality, injustice and discrimination in the U.S.
Ryan Gattis’ novel All Involved doesn’t directly tackle these questions, nor does it make more than a passing reference to the Rodney King incident and the acquittal of the police officers. Instead the author drops us straight into a fictional story that takes place in LA over the period of the six days of the riots, and we’re given a brief, first-person perspective of the chaos from the point of view of a number of different characters. Most of them are black and hispanic gangsters using the anarchy as an opportunity to settle scores, but we also get to experience the riots through the eyes of a firefighter, an Asian high school student, a nurse and a national guardsman, as events unfold following a gruesome murder.
We spend time with seventeen narrators in total, with nicknames like Momo, Apache, Lil Mosco, Lil Creeper, and Big Fate. It becomes a bit Game of Thrones-y at times as you try to remember who is a Lannister and who is a Baratheon and where they fit into the story, but you don’t necessarily need to keep track of each character as the plot is progressed from chapter to chapter with a new person taking over the telling from a different perspective. Some of the characters are more likeable, not to mention enjoyable to read, than others, and you’re left a bit dissatisfied when you have to leave the good ones. It is nevertheless an interesting narrative style which gives the broad perspective that a single voice could not.
One of the striking aspects of the book is the graphic description of the violence. First-person recounting of the “hollow thumping” of the knife going into the narrator’s chest after a beating with a baseball bat makes for uncomfortable reading at times, and brings home the brutality in a way that an objective account wouldn’t. Some of the gunfights are quite elaborate and at times stretch credulity – one gang has a sniper and some kind of forensic expert to clean up the crime scene – and you get the sense that the author indulged himself somewhat.
Given the context and the background of the narrators, there was the risk that it would be difficult for the reader to understand them, but Gattis avoids this by slightly watering down their internal voices. The book is an easy read with a plot that rolls along nicely. We’ll be seeing it adapted to the screen in the near future too, as HBO recently acquired the rights to the book. That will be worth a watch for sure.