John Fante’s Ask the Dust found itself on a recent list of best novels about California. I was pleased that it made the list but I think it belongs on a best novels of all time list. It is difficult to have a favorite book because there are so many fabulous writers who have come and gone and left us with their gifts. John Fante isn’t as well known as other writers of his time but he is gaining popularity as time goes by. He was Charles Bukowski’s biggest influence and made him want to write. Bukowski’s alter ego Henry Chinaski may have been influenced by Fante’s protagonist in Ask the Dust. Arturo Bandini moves to Los Angeles to make it as a writer and finds himself wandering aimlessly around the city trying to make sense of his calling. He moves from flophouse to burlesque show searching for company. His naivety and candor make him endearing to me despite his troubled mind. Arturo loathes women yet he finds himself fascinated by them.He is an inexperienced young man and must learn to navigate through the various stages of sweetness and hell that comes with falling in love. He is a very intriguing character and I can understand why Bukowski was so enamored by him.
The way Fante describes Los Angeles is both intoxicating and haunting. I try and imagine what it was like for people living there during the 1930s. Many people migrated west following the Dust Bowl, including Fante’s Bandini who left his family in Colorado for the promise that California would inspire him to become a better writer. I can identify with his character in the sense that Los Angeles has a magical element to it which lured me away from home at the age of seventeen. I chose to sleep in cars over flophouses,and I understood some of the feelings of failure and loss that Arturo grapples with. I have come very close to naming Ask the Dust my favorite novel of all time.
“You’ll eat hamburgers year after year and live in dusty, vermin-infested apartments and hotels, but every morning you’ll see the mighty sun, the eternal blue of the sky, and the streets will be full of sleek women you never will possess, and the hot semi-tropical nights will reek of romance you’ll never have, but you’ll still be in paradise, boys, in the land of sunshine.”- Arturo Bandini, from John Fante’s Ask the Dust