Similar authors to follow
See more recommendations
Customers Also Bought Items By
Ask the Dust is a virtuoso performance by an influential master of the twentieth-century American novel. It is the story of Arturo Bandini, a young writer in 1930s Los Angeles who falls hard for the elusive, mocking, unstable Camilla Lopez, a Mexican waitress. Struggling to survive, he perseveres until, at last, his first novel is published. But the bright light of success is extinguished when Camilla has a nervous breakdown and disappears . . . and Bandini forever rejects the writer's life he fought so hard to attain.
I had a lot of jobs in Los Angeles Harbor because our family was poor and my father was dead. My first job was ditchdigging a short time after I graduated from high school. Every night I couldn’t sleep from the pain in my back. We were digging an excavation in an empty lot, there wasn’t any shade, the sun came straight from a cloudless sky, and I was down in that hole digging with two huskies who dug with a love for it, always laughing and telling jokes, laughing and smoking bitter tobacco.
He came along, kicking the snow. Here was a disgusted man. His name was Svevo Bandini, and he lived three blocks down that street. He was cold and there were holes in his shoes. That morning he had patched the holes on the inside with pieces of cardboard from a macaroni box. The macaroni in that box was not paid for. He had thought of that as he placed the cardboard inside his shoes.
My first collision with fame was hardly memorable. I was a busboy at Marx's Deli. The year was 1934. The place was Third and Hill, Los Angeles. I was twenty-one years old, living in a world bounded on the west by Bunker Hill, on the east by Los Angeles Street, on the south by Pershing Square, and on the north by Civic Center. I was a busboy nonpareil, with great verve and style for the profession, and though I was dreadfully underpaid (one dollar a day plus meals) I attracted considerable attention as I whirled from table to table, balancing a tray on one hand, and eliciting smiles from my customers. I had something else beside a waiter's skill to offer my patrons, for I was also a writer.
‘The world’s bleakest romantic comedy’ — Los Angeles Times
"An exuberant, extravagant chronicle of gestation which romps through to the final production of the Fante's firstborn in high Italianate style and immerses a succession of hair-raising to breast-beating sequences in tears — and Chianti."—Kirkus
"The universe of John Fante’s fiction is so immediately moving, so poetically vivid, that it is hard to decide which is the greater quandary: that it went so long unrecognized, or that in the factitious worlds of publishing and Hollywood it is receiving such enormous recognition today."—Boston Review
"Fante’s disturbing, singular writing stands absolutely alone among American Depression and mid-century writers. He was always the equal, and often the better, of his recognized contemporaries: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, West, Schulberg."—Neil Gordon
"Charming and hilarious"—Salon
"Fante's best writing ... astonishingly wide-ranging and compressed"—London Review of Books
Dear Reader, if you have ever been a member of a family that has ever been "in a family way" this is your book.
The narrator of this extravagant domestic comedy, who lives in Los Angeles, finds himself a home-owner and expectant father almost simultaneously and both sensations please him. It must be granted that there are certain adjustments to be made. One is to work out an amicable arrangement with his wife Joyce, who changes from a serene and reasonable companion to an unpredictable creature of compulsions and obsessions, furiously resenting any implication that her "condition" (a word she hates anyway) might be responsible. Aesthetically too, Joyce creates a problem for her sensitive husband, symbolised by her switch from a magical perfume called "Fernery at Twilight" to "a kind of Gayelord Hauser cologne, reeking of just plain good health, clean alcohol and simple soap."
But it is the termites' ravishment of the kitchen floor that helps the Fante family in an uproar for the rest of the confinement.
First Papa Nick Fante must be fetched – the best bricklayer in California. At his parents' house, it only take a few minutes for John to become aware that the child expected 'must' be a boy. No two ways about it. Unthinkable for the Fantes to be without a grandson. Against the obdurate reliance of his Papa and Mama on homemade insurance he is helpless: eggs and oysters are fine, but garlic in the keyhole and salt in the bed just can't be beaten.
The return train trip with Papa is a hilarious nightmare, complete with tool kit, wine jugs, salami and goat cheese. Papa Fante is equipped with a violent Italian temper as well, and a sly knowledge of everyone's soft and sore spots, which knowledge he exploits shamelessly.
Back in Los Angeles the caved in floor (it had sunk under Joyce' weight) is ignored and he decides to build a fireplace instead – "for his first grandson." The story of Uncle Mingo and the bandits must be preserved – "for his grandson" – and Papa and Joyce enter into a smug conspiracy that threatens to break up the household.
The sight of the pregnant Joyce enchants her father-in-law. He adored the "voluptuous roundness that contained a part of him too," says the vastly impressed and also somewhat depressed husband.
Henry Molise, a 50 year old, successful writer, returns to the family home to help with the latest drama; his aging parents want to divorce. Henry's tyrannical, brick laying father, Nick, though weak and alcoholic, can still strike fear into the hearts of his sons. His mother, though ill and devout to her Catholicism, still has the power to comfort and confuse her children. This is typical of Fante's novels, it's autobiographical, and brimming with love, death, violence and religion. Writing with great passion Fante powerfully hits home the damage family can wreck upon us all.
West of Rome's two novellas, "My Dog Stupid" and "The Orgy," fulfill the promise of their rousing titles. The latter novella opens with virtuoso description: "His name was Frank Gagliano, and he did not believe in God. He was that most singular and startling craftsman of the building trade-a left-handed bricklayer. Like my father, Frank came from Torcella Peligna, a cliff-hugging town in the Abruzzi. Lean as a spider, he wore a leather cap and puttees the year around, and he was so bowlegged a dog could lope between his knees without touching them."