Book Review: Ask The Dust by John Fante

Published: 1939

“I’m glad to have experienced Fante’s writing style.”

fourstars

What Is ‘Ask the Dust’ About?

Arturo Bandini arrives in Los Angeles with big dreams. But the reality he finds is a city gripped by poverty.
When he makes a small fortune from the publication of a short story, he reinvents himself, indulging in expensive clothes, fine food and downtown strip clubs. But Bandini’s delusions take a worrying turn when he is drawn into a relationship with Camilla Lopez, a beautiful but troubled young woman who will be responsible for his greatest downfall.
‘Ask the Dust’ is an unforgettable novel about outsiders looking in on a town built on celluloid dreams.

Why Did I Read ‘Ask the Dust’?

‘Ask the Dust’ was recommended to me but with the warning that it was unique. It’s achieved a large amount of praise over the years and is widely regarded as a classic in American literature.
This novel was first published in 1939?! To think that it would still be relevant is mind blowing. Besides, a unique writing style warrants attention.

What I Liked About ‘Ask the Dust’

The writing style of John Fante, or specifically ‘Ask the Dust’, reads at a pace that resembles thought. Fante seldom dwells on description, whether that be location, character back story or atmosphere. Instead you move through the story at great speed, buying coffee, eating, drinking, falling in love, falling out of love and arguing with characters for no apparent reason. The sentences are short and sharp with abrupt punctuation – it would seem almost rushed if not for the pockets of genius sprinkled throughout the book:

Page 23: ‘My plight drove me to the typewriter. I sat before it, overwhelmed with the grief for Arturo Bandini. Sometimes an idea floated harmlessly through the room. It was like a small white bird. It meant no ill-will. It only wanted to help me, dear little bird. But I would strike at it, hammer it across the keyboard, and it would die on my hands.’

What I love about this novel more than anything is that it was written 77 years ago and is still being read. John Fante died over 30 years ago and to think readers are out there still discovering his work is inspiring.

Touching on the character of Arturo Bandini, some of his self loathing inner monologues are at times both depressing and yet amusing – his remarks on his failings as a writer felt semi-autobiographical.
It was also quite a unique experience to follow a protagonist that was for the most part distasteful and random in behaviour.

The ending is heartfelt and stays with you for some time afterwards.

What I Didn’t Like About ‘Ask the Dust’

I found that, due to the fast pace of the story, I was a bit desensitised to some of the dramatic elements in the story. The writing style didn’t allow you to dwell on emotion for any great length of time.

Some of the decisions made by Arturo are erratic and difficult to understand. Also the reactions of the characters to those decisions are equally peculiar. That being said, this does make the story very unpredictable and when a story is crafted with such a distinctive style you wonder if that was the idea to begin with.

Good Or Bad

Was ‘Ask the Dust’ any good? Yes good, but with some disclaimers.
Would I recommend it? Yes, but with the best will in the world, this isn’t for everyone. I suspect the writing style is quite divisive and could put off many readers before they really got started with it.
Would I read it again? No, but I’m glad to have experienced Fante’s writing style.



Here are some other reviews:
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
On Writing (A Memoir Of The Craft) by Stephen King
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
The Big Short by Michael Lewis

What’s on the list?
The Lafayette Campaign by Andrew Updegrove
The Hidden Legacy by GJ Minett
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan


Any suggestions?

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David P. Philip


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