Engaging and entertaining, Fante writes with wit and humour making acute and provoking observations along the way.
Ask The Dust by John Fante is widely known as one of the most important and successful novels to emerge from American literature, and yet quiet extraordinarily it nearly slipped through the net. First published in 1939 the novel was poorly received getting little praise and almost falling out of print. But thanks to a chance discovery made by Charles Bukowski the book was re published and finally given the praise and attention it deserved. It’s fair to say the history of the book is almost as fascinating as the story itself.
The novel tells the story of struggling writer Arturo Bandini who has moved to L.A in pursuit of his dream of being a distinguished writer. Yet reality is a far cry from his dreams and he lives in a rundown hotel living scantily of orange zests. Much of the story is said to be semi autobiographical accounts of Fante’s own experiences thus adding heightened interest to the story.
After meeting a Mexican lady working in a bar Arturo becomes infatuated, Camilla Lopez becomes the object of his rather intense affection and a passionate love/hate relationship ensues in what is sometimes a beautiful and touching relationship and sometimes a far more ugly portrayal of love.
The novel is set to the backdrop of the Great Depression and Fante paints a vivid and harsh reality of the grubby and poorer side of L.A. He charts Arturo’s struggle with religion, identity and race, the hardships of making it in a country that boasts of richness and affluence, and off course dealing with unrequited love.
To define the novel as one subject in particular would be an injustice given just how much Fante manages to cover, but what really struck me in the novel was the actual character of Bandini and his vast wealth of feelings. He can at one moment be optimistic, focused, high-spirited and well-meaning. At another down hearted, dejected and misplaced. His little idiosyncracies make him incredibly fascinating and endearing. He is narcissisticand egocentric but is he likeable in his desperation to be liked, adored and revered as a writer.
I won’t spoil the full relationship that takes place between Arturo and Camilla but needless to say that although things did not evolve as I thought they would I was incredibly touched by how the novel ended and how the relationship concluded.
The novel is a little different to what I usually read but I’m really glad I gave it ago. I enjoyed sharing Arturo’s journey in L.A. with him, I found the glimpse of another life and world fascinating and compelling, and above all else the novel gave me plenty to think over and consider long after I finished the last delectable page.
Have you read Ask The Dust or read anything else by Fante? Perhaps you’ve seen the movie version of the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.