Graffiti Palace

Written by A. G. Lombardo
Review by Pamela Schoenewaldt

This visceral, often hallucinatory debut novel unfolds in August 1965, as Americo Monk, a seeker of codes and secret wisdom hidden in graffiti, makes his way through the inferno of the Watts riots. He’s bound for the Los Angeles port, where his heavily pregnant wife is holding a wild rent party in the maze of storage containers where she lives. In his struggle to get home through the secret grids of Los Angeles, Monk encounters a vast cast of bizarre characters from the city’s underworlds: war lords of fortune cookie empires, poet gangsters, a gorgeous temptress from the Nation of Islam, witches, voodoo priestesses, El Tirili, a century-old graffiti artist in a silver sombrero, and a lonely coroner tending children’s corpses in an overflow mortuary. Lured into traps, hunted on every side, befriended by unlikely guides, and brutally beaten, Monk becomes a modern Ulysses, desperate to protect his Holy Grail—the battered notebook holding his precious collection of recorded graffiti.

G. Lombardo’s scorching voice is a new millennium evolution of Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. However, the fascination of Monk’s journey and fellow-travelers comes with a narrative price. As with many “road novels,” the vividly drawn characters he encounters remain largely unchanged by his passage, and the plot sometimes feels like a chain of increasingly surreal vignettes. However, readers prepared for a wild ride will find in Graffiti Palace an utterly unique, unforgettable take on an iconic moment in American history when racial violence exploded in unspeakable violence and under the “burning vault of night,” one man overcomes monstrous odds to return to the woman he loves.