Thursday, September 28, 2006

L. A. Rex by Will Beall


Superb fiction that hits home

Every so often, someone attempting a panorama gets it completely right. With the studied eye of a scientist still willing to dirty his hands in the field, Will Beall has given us

a Los Angeles without precedent. Precisely and brutally, he paints the colonies existing in the petri dish that is our city. You dare not look away from the faces strewn about this landscape.

Beall knows the origin and dialects of the gangs that flow through LAPD’s 77th division. Like Linnaeus, he knows the genealogy of the senior cops left behind after Daryl Gates’ wagon smashed head first into tectonic plates faster, larger, and more intractable than his own.

Beall knows how it smells on a still August night underneath the flight path above Imperial Highway, the stillness a pregnant pause between salvos.

But any motivated rookie can know these things within a few years. Without context, anecdote and skilled observation cannot approximate art. Beall provides it abundantly and reveals a very real talent as he shows us what happens when worlds collide south of the Santa Monica Freeway, that Mason-Dixon line dividing the white-collar from the no-collar.

Years ago, I stopped telling people about my work in the neighborhoods that are the foreground in L. A. Rex. Those who endlessly revised their own histories north of the 10 had no real interest in the darker world that lay beneath it.

Recently, I ate breakfast at the Pantry with an old friend, freshly paroled. Lino did a stretch for a crime he probably did not do. I suppose he was serving and protecting in his own way, in the only way he could. The details are not important.

We ate at a table in the back. Sitting at the counter was not an option, his back would have been to the door. Though chiseled, Lino had the weariness of a black-maned lion, ground down by the very life that had given him definition.

“So. Are you going to stay in town? It’s changed more than you could imagine,” I asked, after we ordered. New, younger lions would come after him from every angle.

“Yeah,” he said, watching sugar dissolve into black coffee.

“Mexico’s not an option?”

“Look carnal, I was born in Sinaloa. But I’m from L. A. Intiendes?”

“Intiendo.” Lino had the tattoo to prove it, bigger than the letters on a Dodger cap.

Lunch arrived. We ate without speaking.

“You know, those books helped,” he said, not looking at his mashed potatoes.

“No problem.” Every year, I sent him a volume of Durant’s History of the World. Thirteen years. Thirteen volumes.

“I read them all, man. Every page.” he used a napkin to wipe steak sauce from his lips. “And this is how I look at it. L. A. is ancient Rome at it’s peak. Only modern, right?”


“We are the center of the universe, Holmes. As goes L. A., so goes the world. No, man, I missed too much already to be stuck in some pinche backwater province. I am a Roman. And in Rome I’ll die.”

If you read one work of fiction before the year is over, make it L. A. Rex.

Jeffrey Sklan

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