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Ask The Dust


hux
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I really enjoyed this. For those saying it's very similar to Bukowski, yes it is. But I'd actually say Fante demonstrates a significantly higher standard of writing when it comes to the bleak day-to-day minutiae of the dusty streets of L.A.

The book follows Arturo Bandini (Fante's alter ego) as he tries to make his name as a writer. He rents a hotel room and wanders the streets before meeting the beautiful Camilla Lopez. He pursues a relationship with her which is more fantasy than reality and the two of them always seem to fight and miscommunicate their feelings. Bandini is not really in love, he's merely in love with the idea of love (it might give him something to write about). Whereas Camilla is actually in love with someone else entirely, a man named Sammy who has no interest in her. Watching Fante explore these two idiots who love the wrong people is fun; their youthful ineptitude has made them incapable of connecting to people in any meaningful way and these relationships rather beautifully capture the nervous energy of youth and its tendency to be pointed in the wrong directions. My only real criticism is the fact that Camilla ends up in a mental asylum. Every writer seems to have a (usually female) character who ends up in the loony bin at some point. But I suppose for a book written in 1939 it was considered progressive to explore anything relating to mental health.

I'm reliably informed that this book was third in a quartet of books that follow the Bandini character but I doubt I'll be seeking the others out. This one stands on its own merits and doesn't require any further insight. As much as I enjoyed it, the book wasn't anything spectacular in terms of writing or worldview. But it's a very enjoyable to read and was right up my street.

If the story of a struggling writer reminds any of you of Knut Hamsun's 'Hunger' that shouldn't be too surprising since Fante was a big fan of that book and the title itself (Ask the Dust) is actually a quote from a Hamsun novel called 'Pan.'

"The other one he loved like a slave, like a crazed and like a beggar. Why? Ask the dust on the road and the falling leaves, ask the mysterious God of life; for no one knows such things."

I certainly noticed the similarities between the two and while the excellent Hunger is a far superior work, this is an excellent addition to the whole 'poor writer wanders the streets seeking meaning' canon. I suspect, much like Bukowski, that Fante's work is a one-trick pony of following his alter ego. As tricks go, however, it's very entertaining.

 

8/10

 

 

Edited by hux
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