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Ask the Dust Paperback – February 7, 2006
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About the Author
John Fante began writing in 1929 and published his first short story in 1932. His first novel, Wait Until Spring, Bandini, was published in 1938 and was the first of his Arturo Bandini series of novels, which also include The Road to Los Angeles and Ask the Dust. A prolific screenwriter, he was stricken with diabetes in 1955. Complications from the disease brought about his blindness in 1978 and, within two years, the amputation of both legs. He continued to write by dictation to his wife, Joyce, and published Dreams from Bunker Hill, the final installment of the Arturo Bandini series, in 1982. He died on May 8, 1983, at the age of seventy-four.
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Ask the Dust is a book in the Arturo Bandini series. Bandini, a close stand-in for Fante himself, is a depression-era writer who has come to L.A. to do his work and find his fortune. He lives in the Bunker Hill neighborhood in a downscale residential hotel. Bandini meets a local waitress, Camilla Lopez, and falls for her. Hard. Unfortunately, Camilla loves another man, who does not reciprocate her love and Arturo is stalked/loved by a Jewish woman from Long Beach whose affections he does not reciprocate. Thus we have two love triangles and a relationship between the principals that is largely doomed from the get-go.
The plot is simple: boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy temporarily gets girl; boy loses girl and seeks her (SPOILER) in the dust and grit of the Mojave desert. Beyond the basic plot, everything is voice and texture. Arturo’s story is one of striving, of desperation, of hunger, of momentary triumph, of loneliness, of singular opportunity and of recalcitrant reality, writ large.
The story charts his feelings, his emotions, his angst, his high points and his low. What is it like, precisely, to be a depression-era writer trying to make it in L.A.? It is like this. What is it like to love someone on a nearly epic level, knowing that the relationship is going nowhere fast and is likely to end up in equally epic-level heartache? It is like this.
Fante’s narrative voice is pitch-perfect and painful in its spare lyricism. This is the kind of writing for which the novel was created: to explore middle-class experience with the fervor and urgency previously reserved for Sophoclean and Shakespearean tragedy.
It is a ‘writerly’ book, but readers should not be put off by that, fearing some hothouse, over-aestheticized bit of craft. The book drips with authenticity and explores the human heart in both neatly-understated and very, very powerful ways.
This is the real deal. If you haven’t yet discovered John Fante, now’s your chance. (And read his personal story after you’ve read the novel. Prepare to be moved and a little shaken.)