I haven’t read a novel as immediately engrossing as this in a couple of years. Here’s how engrossing it was: I took it with me on vacation. No big deal. But when the end was in sight, I planned to stay up late reading. My girlfriend objected to the light being on (she wanted to sleep; no fun!), so I turned off the light and went to sit on the bathroom floor for the better part of an hour so I could finish it. It’s that good.
It’s the story of the Rodney King riots of 1992, told through the perspectives of 10 or 12 individuals, each given a chapter’s focus. But the story doesn’t add up to tell us so much what the riots were about or what caused them or any other big-deal idea. Rather, it gets us deep into the minds, worlds, and emotions of people who find themselves living in a city where law, order, and—basically—reality, have been suspended for the better part of a week.
Most of the characters in the book are Latino gang members; not exactly the group that springs to mind when you think about the riots. These people aren’t necessarily participants in the riots, but they certainly take advantage of the conditions created by them.
The book is shockingly violent and thick with profanity, but also built on a foundation of fantastic insights into human hearts and minds, a great ear for dialogue and a sense of humor, and a truly profound sense of empathy. Think of it as a bit like David Peace’s Red Riding novels transplanted to LA.
If you don’t mind violence and profanity, and have even the slightest sliver of interest in these topics, get this book now. It’s hard to imagine reading a better new novel this year.