The facts: At 3.15 P.M. on April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted three Los Angeles Police Department Officers of the charges of using excessive force against civilian Rodney King. Two hours later, at 5.00 P.M rioting began all around the Los Angeles region. The riots would end only six days later, “after 10,904 arrests had been made, over 2,383 people had been injured, 11,113 fires had been burned and more than one billion dollars’ worth of property damage was sustained.”
This raging, chaotic, violence fuelled event was aired in prime time all around the world, creating an unforgettable image for the memories of those who saw it – an image which seemed about the legacy of police brutality and racism, but which was really about much more than what could be grasped from the prolific media images and commentary of that time.
It is that very idea of exploring “what lies beneath” the LA riots – both in an literal and a metaphoric sense – that is the premise of Ryan Gattis’ novel All Involved. Gattis uses the backdrop of the riots to look at the untold stories – the experiences of those LA residents whose lives are everyday surrounded by violence and chaos. His characters – from gang members, to drug addicts, to nurses and firefighters – are “all involved” in the riots; yet it is not the riots that are the catalyst of their involvement, but rather the fact that their lives are lived on that periphery of the commonly accepted, “orderly” society.
“Is it possible”, Gattis asks, “that a number of victims not designated as riot related were actually the targets of a sinister combination of opportunity and circumstance”? Using the term “All involved”, which is slang for being part of a gang, Gattis takes us behind the façade of the riots, and into the world of Latino gang warfare, where the settling of scores and opportunism go hand in hand with each other. Told from the first-person perspective of seventeen different characters, there is little scope for lingering over each characterisation, and it is mostly the imperative “to act” that drives the narrative forward. The characters all have their own scores to settle, and their own reasons for being “all involved”, and at times Gattis manages to convey those nuances with absolute brilliance, while at other times there is a much slighter sense of who the character is outside of their involvement.
The narrative is an uncompromising portrayal of the characters’ ability to integrate violence and brutality into their “ordinary” lives – and while the characters are driving around greater LA and further afield, there is a real sense of claustrophobia to the narrative, where escape from the gang-dominated suburbs and the characters’ circumstances seems impossible. Although there is no overt analysis of race relations, the very existence of the characters, and their lives in lower socio-economic areas as second-class “immigrants” inexplicitly provides some philosophical insight into the origins of the riots.
All Involved is testimony that Ryan Gattis is one of those authors who have a distinct and innovative voice and style, which manifests in an edginess that serves his subject matter and characterisations well. All Involved keeps the reader feeling simultaneously repulsed and attracted to the narrative and the characters – surely a dangerous mix, and one which makes All Involved a potentially very intriguing story.