by Ryan Gattis
Amid the chaos, surrounded by the flames, suffocated by the smoke that has blocked out the West Coast sun, Lil Creeper, Sherlock Homeboy and Termite try to lay down their own version of urban order in the absence of the rule of law.
Ryan Gattis’ All Involved is as sprawling as LA’s suburban highways and as tightly-knit as the city’s gang loyalties. The predominantly Latino members of these ‘clicks’, alongside officers from the emergency services and citizens trying to protect their shops and homes, provide the first-person narrators of this multi-layered novel.
Their stories are set during the six days of the Rodney King riots that ran between April and May 1992. The outrage was prompted by the acquittal of four white LAPD officers who had been videotaped beating and tasering the unarmed black taxi driver.
The global exposure of the grainy home-camcorder footage was the defining precursor of ‘going viral’. The recording was played and replayed across the world, and in LA provoked a level of rage that set aflame the festering bundle of resentment-soaked kindling at the base of the city.
As the scale of the lawlessness became clear, the LAPD Chief declared publicly that “There are going to be situations where people are going to be without assistance…There are not enough of us”.
Thus setting the scene for Lil Creeper, Sherlock Homeboy, Termite and their crews to settle old scores, steal each other’s stashes, and stake claims for new territories.
While thrilling and compellingly written, All Involved is equally reflective and philosophical. The characters’ internal soliloquies shed a harsh and unremitting light on the racial divisions and societal dysfunctions of urban America.
After every previous disturbance, Lil Creeper reflects “everybody looks back and is like (in my best white-newscaster dude voice), “Wow, that was terrible, just awful, now way should that ever happen again”. But such solemn commitments are soon forgotten.
“LA has a short f****** memory. It never learns. And that’s what’s gonna kill this city”.
The city of angels may be institutionally amnesiac, but the gangs remember their seething resentments. “Every single cop in the city is somewhere else and that means it’s officially hunting season on every f****** fool who ever got away with anything and damn, does this neighbourhood have a long memory”.
As every character seeks resolution and restoration of pride and face, their stories become dangerously intertwined. Minor characters in one chapter re-tell the story from their perspective in the next. Casually mentioned details along the swing of one story arc form crucial turning points in the cross-cutting parabola of the next narrative.
This doomed tendency for one act to trigger a whole set of uncontrollable chain reactions – so that every score settled creates another four score and seven to be settled down the line and paid in blood – forms the central drama of All Involved.