Friday, March 7, 2008

The Works of John Fante

Some of the best writing I have read is that of John Fante. He was born and raised dirt poor in Colorado in the 1910s and 20s. He moved to Los Angeles at 18 and lived there until his death. There, he started out living on the streets of Wilmington struggling to write and survive. He eventually moved to Angels Flight in downtown LA where he lived and worked for years. Eventually he found some success with a few novels, then started writing screenplays for Hollywood. By all accounts he wrote whatever the studios wanted. He returned to his passion, novels and short stories in his later years, his final work was dictated to his wife because he had lost his sight and legs to diabetes. Since my brother first gave me his masterpiece Ask The Dust a few months ago I have been working my way through his books. That story is a good place to start and a good introduction to the Arturo Bandini saga. The saga is four books about Bandini written over a period of 40 years. Arturo Bandini is an intimate style of writing and a character he uses to describe his life experiences. Probably the funniest, coolest, most honest writing ever. When in a drunken rage Charles Bukowski used to scream "I am Arturo Bandini!" Bukowski claimed Fante was "his God" and it was he who convinced Black Sparrow press to re-publish all of Fantes, at the time, very hard to find books. I just read this book, the first in the Bandini saga:

This is about his upbringing in Colorado. The insight and emotional depth here are staggering. An absolutely beautiful work. Published in 1938 it was his first book and was critically acclaimed. It didn't sell to well due to the fact the publishing company had its advertising funds tied up in a legal matter concerning the publishing of a little book by an upcoming political figure called Mein Kampf. Fante had a bit more recognition with Ask The Dust.

One of my favorite books ever, I wrote about it earlier this year.

In the Brotherhood of the Grape Fante uses a different name: the Molini family. In this he is grown up, living in Redondo Beach, and goes to visit his family who live outside Stockton. It is mostly about his derelict Italian father and his friends who drink wine, gamble, and fuck women all day. They are some crazy old men by any ones standards. The unhealthy but too-proud father is a stone mason and convinces his reluctant son to build a smokehouse with him up in the mountains. This is an incredible story with extraordinary insight as he describes his family with painful honesty. The way the family treats each other is brutal to read but you know that's how families work. Another book that takes place in his later years is West of Rome:

This contains two novellas: My Dog Stupid and The Orgy. The Orgy takes place around the time of Wait Until Spring. At his mothers assistance young Molini goes to help his father and a friend at a silver mine that they go to each weekend. He finds them not working but holed up in a dirty shack, hammered on red wine, and fucking some lady that drives a beat up Cadillac. The young Molini freaks out and sprays his mothers Holy Water all over them as he breaks down in confused tears. My Dog Stupid takes place in Malibu in the 60's as he raises his hippie kids and looks for work as a screenwriter. Again, he just writes about what is going on around him with his family and it is nothing short of amazing prose.

Dream from Bunker Hill. This is the one he wrote in 1982 by dictating it to his wife. It picks up where Ask the Dust leaves off. He gets a job making big money writing screenplays and he tries moving out of Bunker Hill. Everything seems perfect until the studio won't give him an assignment, they just have him 'on hold'. Bandini, of course, won't stand for this and things unravel from there. This is a shorter book divided into small chapters that make for quick easy reading. Highly recommended.

There is one more book I have yet to read in the Bandini saga: The Road to Los Angeles. There are the short story collections Dago Red, The Wine of Youth, and The Big Hunger. Also Selected Letters and 1933 Was a Bad Year. Judging by the titles of those books, they are going to be good.

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