Friday, November 23, 2012

Ask the Dust by John Fante

Portrait of the artist as a young dago

It was fortuitous I ended up reading this book right after the actual Portrait of The Artist.  Both books concern the same subject, the devout Mama’s boy who intends to be a genius. Except one book is a masterpiece with insights pertaining to all humanity and the other is an exhilarating yet dated snapshot of LA in the Thirties. Cartoony but in a good way.

Ask the Dust is about Arturo Bandini, an aspiring writer from Colorado (i.e., a hick), who’s published one story, The Little Dog Laughed.  He has come to LA to make his fortune and spends most of his time daydreaming about that fortune, handing out unwanted copies of The Little Dog Laughed and eating cheap oranges. He goes to a bar for a cup of bad coffee and falls in the love with the waitress Camilla Lopez. They have a weird relationship – he is terribly mean to her and she is terribly mean to him. But apparently they have initiated a grand love affair. Meanwhile there is an earthquake in Long Beach.

The novel is unmistakably funny with visual and dialogue gags. Arturo Bandini is an egomaniac, and the other characters, such as the hilarious landlady, are seen in telling bursts, but they lack dimension, they have no roots extending into Bandini’s soul. We see the start of the Left Coast, peopled by eccentrics who moved here from calmer burgs. Fante's downtown LA is filled with fruits and nuts.  

I was under the misapprehension that nobody had casual sex before 1964 but this book and Mildred Pierce have shown me otherwise. Although Arturo Bandini, unlike Stephen Dedulus, seems to suffer from a detumescing case of Catholic guilt.

Also, what kind of marijuana does Camilla smoke? It sends her to the mental hospital and is depicted by Arturo as if she is shooting meth. I also liked the somewhat hopeless ending.

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