Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ask The Dust, by John Fante

This book came to me by way the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club show. It’s written by American –Italian author John Fante. Published in 1939, the book reads like an autobiographical novel, except that it is quite self-mocking and a lot of the plot is quite ridiculous and surreal. (I don’t mean ridiculous as a pejorative; that’s part of its genius.)

The protagonist of the novel is young Arturo Bandini, who barely ekes out a living as a fiction writer. He’s had one story published at the start of the novel, in one of the lesser quality publications. Indeed, quite a few of the characters that Bandini comes into contact with think his first short story very much stinks. No matter, Arturo Bandini continues to fantasise wildly that he is destined to become one of the century’s greatest writers.

The great thing about Ask The Dusk is its authenticity. It may not be a great novel, but it’s definitely a gem. So much of it rings true, and John Fante, much to his credit plays the tone of the novel perfectly. It see-saws magically between farce and the surreal, dusty, downtrodden world of Los Angeles during the 1930s depression.

I’d place the novel somewhere along the lines of The Bell Jar and The Catcher in the Rye. It’s about American adolescence, really.

If you enjoy American literature from that period, a literature that describes the cultural melting pot of young American society during the 1930s, and that does not provide a rosy picture, nor a pessimistic vision of urban decay, then you should treat yourself to this wonderful short novel. I had a great two days reading it, and will probably read it again some time in the future.

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