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Fante/Mencken: John Fante and H.L. Mencken: A Personal Correspondence, 1930-1952 Paperback – 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Will you answer a question for me?" asks 22-year-old aspiring novelist Fante of Mencken (1880-1956), then the formidable editor of the American Mercury . "In the past thirty days I have written 150,000 words. . . . Is a man just starting supposed to do that much?" Fante (1909-1983), who in 1938 published his first novel ( Wait Until Spring, Bandini ) but whose fiction has yet to be widely acclaimed, couples ingenuousness with youthful arrogance. His long, rambling letters often lie about his age or background, and he is cravenly sycophantic. Mencken's replies are terse but encouraging; in 1932 he publishes one of Fante's stories. The two never meet, and never cease addressing each other as "Mr." It is, however, misleading to state that this correspondence continued past 1940: in 1951 Fante writes after an 11-year hiatus, and receives a reply from a secretary informing him that illness prevents Mencken from answering. Los Angeles Times reporter Moreau's commentary and notes penetrate Fante's egocentricity to afford glimpses of the political climate of the time. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.


In 1979 John Fante told an interviewer, "I would have done anything to get the praise of H.L. Mencken." This collection of letters spans a twenty-two year period that saw Fante go from a sporadically published short-story writer to a full-fledged novelist and screenwriter. Mencken, who was editor of the American Mercury and an influential social critic of the time, provides a sharp, dry contrast to Fante's effusiveness. The letters begin with short but polite rejections from Mencken of Fante's stories. Fante's letters, in turn, become more profuse in their praise of Mencken and his work; but more interestingly, they reveal the thoughts that were to become the grist of his novels. Particularly telling is a letter written in 1936 in which Fante describes his father's fawning reaction to his son's success, something Fante couldn't bear. "He used to beat the hell out of me twice a week and I had a lot of respect for the man," Fante laments. Mencken's response is short, almost curt: "I see no reason why you should be upset about your father." With the aid of copious endnotes, the letters also serve as a finger on the political pulse of the times. The letters ceased for most of the 1940s, and Mencken's debilitating health rendered the correspondence one-sided through the remainder of the 1950s. Nevertheless, the correspondence testifies to the progression of Fante's success as a writer and to his "friendship" with a mentor he never met, and it reveals a certain vulnerability in both men. -- From Independent Publisher --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Black Sparrow Books; 1st edition (1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0876857667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0876857663
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,583,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Having read Fante's excellent "Ask the Dust," my heart skipped a beat when I saw this collection of letters at my local library. Recognizing at once Mencken's relationship to Arturo Bandini's literary hero, the "Great editor J.C. Hackmuth" who appears in Fante's LA stories, I lost no time in absorbing this collection.

Indeed, Fante did little to disguise his relationship with Mencken for his fiction, something which becomes apparent upon reading this volume. His early letters to Mencken are rife with ambition and emotional tumult, reminscent of Bandini's lugubrious musings in "Ask the Dust." Many times he adopts a tone of confessional, spilling his guts to Mencken, his putative mentor, laying bare all his prejudices, desires, and disillusions. It becomes clear that Fante has very few close friends, and that his family dominate his thoughts and feed his instabilities.

Mencken's responses are invariably curt and balanced. As if to avoid becoming entrenched in Fante's delirium (the two hadn't met in person, nor would they ever), Mencken's responses are terse but temperate - his words are encouraging, but eschew flattery. The young writer is obviously desperate for compliments, but Mencken never offers more than simple praise. Likewise, he reserves his vituperations for the subjects of his columns.

What's really most compelling about this collection is that it allows us an highly elucidated view of Fante's maturation as a writer and as a man. From his books it is difficult to discern his opinions of the political and social climate of era. But through his correspondence with Mencken, his allegiances are revealed.
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