Review: Ask the Dust by John Fante

How I got through a bachelor’s program in English and a graduate program in American Lit without touching John Fante is beyond me (especially considering I did my graduate work in Los Angeles!). Ask the Dust was humorously honest in its portrayal of L.A. life and lifestyle – particularly in regards to class and race relations (everybody in the story wants to be just “American” but each character can’t help but exaggerate the ethnic heritage of the others). The prose is a beautiful precursor to Salinger and Kerouac; the plot and disillusionment anticipates Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust, though, for Fante, writing is still the un-threatened art-form. The unrequited love-triangle between Arturo, Camilla, and Sam was tragic, absurd, and entirely believable. I also enjoyed the subtle, particular detail paid to the seamless yet distinguishable “burroughs” of Los Angeles, including Long Beach, Bunker Hill, and Santa Monica – this honesty to detail was also present as the characters traveled north to Bakersfield and south to Laguna Beach. I will admit that Bandini was a bit of a loose canon – not much explanation for the wild tangents he would run off on, or the angry, almost violent tendencies toward women, and the narration would run equally wild at certain points (as with the description of the earthquake) but the cynicism and sarcasm are clear, truthful indicators of the period. I think The New York Times had it right when they said: “Either the work of John Fante is unknown to you or it is unforgettable. He was not the kind of writer to leave room in between.” Fante had been unknown to me, until he was mentioned in passing by another grad student, in context to a discussion; however, now that I’ve taken the chance and read my first Fante novel, I am sure it will not be forgotten – and will be succeeded by future experiences with this gritty, poetic American nobody.

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