Graffiti Palace by A. G. Lombardo is Homer’s Odyssey relived through the streets of LA during the 1965 Watt riots. Monk, self-proclaimed “urbanologist” documents the streets by “collecting” graffiti and transferring it into his notebook. He understands the complex underground mazes and workings of the different gangs via the markings they leave on the walls. His journey home to his girlfriend Karmann, through the riots, is part real world, part mythical, laden with intense imagery. He meets members of the Fruit of Islam, killer bees, Mexican gang members, Voodooiennes and many more, while moving slowly back towards his home created with containers where his girlfriend and future child are waiting for him.
All in all I enjoyed the novel. The language doesn’t always flow very well, extremely bloated with imagery at times (especially at the beginning). While actually very beautiful in parts it’s sometimes too much, too overpowering and takes away from the flow of the narrative. I do think this probably was done on purpose, because it meshes well with Monk’s incredible journey through the streets. The attention to detail in the novel is amazing, from the tiny street altars to the intricate details of the pest control man’s food, everything is accounted for and symbolic. So basically what I am trying to say that if you are looking for a lazy Sunday afternoon read then this is not going to work for you. However if you don’t mind delving into a deep pool of words for a while you will be fine. I found myself drifting off sometimes and had to come back later to focus again. Some areas could have done with a little more flow and less heavy imagery.
Another thing that I found slightly jarring at first were the clichés that popped up: the black fathers who are all in prison, the tough Mexican woman cooking for the gang leaders, the textbook Chinese opium smoker straight out of a Tintin book, but I kind of think it was done on purpose, in a pulp fiction type of way. It’s like each character, even the minor ones, are larger than life, symbolic.
In the end I couldn’t put Graffiti Palace down. It took me about a fifth of the book to really get into it, and for the flow to start making sense, but once it did I couldn’t stop. I am actually still running through it in my head, but the images are Marvel comic book images (this is NOT a bad thing, the author had the ability to really create a movie in my mind which is brilliant), and I am Monk Americo, jumping undercover from street to street, discovering all of the secrets that hide beneath strokes of spray paint and bordered up houses, bumping into icons, symbolic messengers, and encountering auspicious signs along the way. And the entire novel focuses on an important part of modern history, a semiotic study of the area in the 60’s, but also of the US as a whole. Uprising, revolution, riot, and a symbolic journey peppered with signs, stories, and people back home.
Graffiti Palace will be released on March 13th, 2018 through Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!