Say hello to Charles Bukowski's
"God". Say hello to America's forgotten literary tour de force. Say hello to a mad, aberrant, mellifluous genius of the written word (and yes I did utter the word "genius"
just then): John Fante, author of Ask the Dust. A scathing lament, a paean to lost love, an elegy dedicated to the individual spirit - for this is the world of Fante's wonderful anti-hero: Arturo Bandini.
You'll be pleased to meet him, though the chances are he may not reciprocate such conviviality. Arturo's world is a Nietzschean caterwaul beneath a bright Californian backdrop. Never, to my knowledge, has Los Angeles been so honestly depicted and laid bare. Twenty-one year old Arturo is living in a squalid Bunker Hill hotel where, amongst other solipsistic predilections, his primary concerns are writing and sex. It is before this sun-drenched panorama Arturo's literary and romantic dreams are realised - yet never quite fulfilled. Arturo's whole existence circulates around Camilla Lopez, a Mexican waitress with fire in her soul, whom he dedicates each waking hour pursuing. A classic love/hate relationship is cast and it is in these bitter/sweet exchanges we see John Fante's writing at its very best - heavy with dry humour, tender, acerbic, sonorous and temperate. Ask the Dust,
ultimately, assists as a conduit linking the outside with race, American prejudices, politics and an individuals position in a society that is, ostensibly, incongruous and empty. The microcosm in which Arturo Bandini walks is ultimately a window for us to gaze into and Ask the Dust
is, indeed, a book we should all own.
Lee Rourke © 2004.