Friday, February 8, 2013

Ask the Dust

The thing you can't help but take away from John Fante's Ask the Dust is the infectious passion of Arturo Bandini.

That's something I took away from the story even when seeing it in the form of the Colin Farrell movie years ago.  It's Farrell's bounciest, liveliest role (except perhaps his Bullseye in Daredevil).  And sure enough, it comes from the source material.  Ask the Dust is all about Bandini's quest to become the great writer he's already convinced himself that he is.  In fact, the whole story is about Bandini shaping his view of reality.  His equal is the feisty Camilla Lopez, like him emblematic of an immigrant assimilating into a culture.  Camilla is a Mexican, or Bandini's Mayan goddess.  Bandini himself is a descendant of Italians (Fante has a series of books involving him and his family, starting with Wait Until Spring, Bandini), and although he believes otherwise, his life is every bit similar to Camilla's, whom he torments at every opportunity, when he isn't mesmerized by her.

Fante wrote in the golden age of American literature, the 1930s, surrounded by giants.  He himself has become obscure since then, but his work supports itself, always waiting to be rediscovered (something like Melville several generations earlier).  He worked as a screenwriter, as all the great writers did his day, as well as a novelist.

To read Fante, and Ask the Dust, is to feel as he felt, as Bandini feels in the story.  It's possible to be amused by his experiences even while being thoroughly impressed by them, how they're written, like the embodiment of the ideals every writer aspires to.  It's like Faulkner living up to the hype.  I read As I Lay Dying in high school.  I think I would have appreciated Ask the Dust much more as an assignment.  How is it that teachers don't have fun books in their repertoire?  Fante proves it's possible without being outright comic, although would it be so bad to read that in the classroom, too?

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