What if Homer’s Odyssey Took Place During the Watts Rebellion?

The new novel <i>Graffiti Palace</i> transports a hero tale to 1965 L.A.

“The sky burning.” From its first sentence, A.G. Lombardo’s Graffiti Palace signals the screaming sky in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, one half of Palace’s paternity. The other half is borrowed from Homer.

Lombardo’s impressive debut is a retelling of the Odyssey, only this version takes place in 1965 Watts (the longtime LAUSD teacher owes more to Pynchon’s apocalyptic vision of L.A. in the ’60s and ’70s than to ancient Greece, or even to James Joyce’s retro-Homeric Dublin).

The plot finds a black schlemiel hero, the hapless Americo Monk, zigzagging homeward across a riot-ravaged hellscape toward a party thrown by his suitor-besieged girlfriend. Lombardo lifts Pynchon’s hitherto inimitable syntax practically wholesale, from the hyperventilating sentences to the hepcat grammar. It turns out that two crutches are better than one—Lombardo’s twin debts to Homer and Pynchon ironically propel him out of their shadows and into a budding second career.

A.G. Lombardo reads at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, on Thu., March 22 at 7:30 p.m.

RELATED: The Watts Towers, 50 Years Ago and Today

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