Abramovich befriends many of the Rats, whom he interviews in detail, as well as at least one ex-police officer, but he never quotes anyone else — no women, no uninvolved neighbors, none of the 'crackheads' routinely denigrated by the Rats. It’s not that Abramovich doesn’t do his research — he spends entire days at the Oakland Public Library, devouring any information he can get about local history. And yet his allegiance to the Rats blunts his critical engagement.
Bullies is expertly written in the style of the magazine feature that spawned it. Abramovich sets out a collection of vivid scenes, pithy bits of local history and a lot of bar-stool racounteuring, all of it arranged like tarot cards on a table: not touching but clearly related in ways you need to figure out for yourself ... But instead of burrowing under this facade, Abramovich gets sucked into the unreflective ethos of the Rats, whose only stunted avenue for understanding and expression is their fists.
...a terrific book: fast and furious, if a little ugly at times. Abramovich listens to the Rats as they gossip and feud; as they get older, he notes when they marry, have kids, and drift away from the club. Oakland is both backdrop and character, a city whose booms and busts, racism and violence mirror anything the Rats could dream up.