WHILE DISTURBING to think about, there's a thin line between civilized society and anarchy. Author Ryan Gattis' new novel, All Involved, takes a hard look at this line, describing its disintegration during the LA riots of 1992. It was the year a jury acquitted three Los Angeles cops of brutally beating Rodney King during a routine traffic stop—and failed to produce a verdict for a fourth officer. The city erupted in a fury, with riots spanning six days, which resulted in at least 60 deaths, more than 2,000 injuries, 11,000 fires, and, according to the author, one billion dollars in property damage.
Needless to say, authorities had their hands full, inspiring then-LA Police Chief Daryl Gates to warn, "There are going to be situations where people are going to go without assistance. That's just the facts of life. There are not enough [police and firefighters] to be everywhere." Basically, prepare for anarchy. And in Gattis' fictionalized version of these events, it becomes a perfect time for LA's gangs to settle old scores without any police interference.
All Involved—a term signifying one's involvement in gang life—consists of 17 first-person accounts of these scores being settled, each subtly intertwined. An uninvolved brother of a Chicano gang member is brutally murdered at the hands of rivals, setting off a wave of vengeance that pulls nurses, firefighters, homeless people, drug addicts, and innocents into their vortex. While acts of heroism occur, there are no heroes here—which sets All Involved apart from other entries in crime fiction. Each of the 17 have reasons, and often weak rationalizations for the acts they commit, but make no mistake—the spark that set off the explosion was the institutional racism of the police department.
Gattis expertly weaves each of the stories together, with callbacks to characters we met chapters before. And while the coincidence of all of these people bumping into each other—however briefly—may strain credibility at times, Gattis' unbiased eye for the people populating his story never wavers. The violence is brutal, the kindness is sweet, and the loyalty each character has for their people and their city is heartbreaking, regardless of what side of the law they're on. For six days, each of these characters peer into the dark soul of society, becoming firsthand witnesses to the horror when it all falls apart.
As a beleaguered nurse in All Involved ruminates, "There's a hidden America inside the one we portray to the world, and only a small group of people ever actually see it." And it's this small group who are hit hardest by the racism and classism bubbling just below the surface. But when the shit goes down, even the most fortunate among us can expect to become involved.