Reader reviews for Ask the Dust

Great writer
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Boundless, the ending to the Unearthly series, was good, but I was hoping for great. While I have been Team Tucker, I was quickly brought over to Team Christian. He's Clara's best friend and confidante, but Tucker is her home. Really? Why spend the majority of the book building up the relationship between Clara and Christian only for her to choose Tucker. I feel like the series was rushed and one more book could have ended the series in a different light. Oh, well...you win some and you long for some. :)
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CONTAINS SPOILERS!!Honestly, due to the ending I am giving Boundless 2.5 Stars. I am neither a "Team Tucker" nor a "Team Christian" fan, but when you have a character who spends the entire book being there for you in every way possible and have the heroine choose the other one. The one who has not helped in any way what-so-ever it makes absolutely no sense. Not to mention it makes the heroine come across as very shallow. I am frustrated with what happens to Tucker at the end. [How convenient that Tucker now has power, longer mortality and is no longer affected by the glory. Ugh! Extremely tidy and convenient endings always frustrate me! Disappointed.
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(Adding this to my library now though I read it some time ago--this title just now showed up as a recommendation and I want to confirm that yes, it's a good recommendation. ;-)
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1930s novel that reads like it was written much more recently.
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The writing in this 1930s Los Angeles novel still takes my breath away. It is a dark but beautifully told story of a struggling young writer in downtown's Bunker Hill. Also check out "Full of Life," a biography of Fante by Stephen Cooper.
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Well, I can see why Charles Bukowski liked this one. John Fante's prose is astonishingly vibrant and unmistakably personal, even when he's describing the myriad indignities a largely unsuccessful writer faces while eking out an existence in one of Los Angeles's less glamorous neighborhoods. Fante's has a deep understanding of the weight and sway of he uses that any poet would envy and that the plainspoken Bukowski certainly took to heart. The subject matter of "Ask the Dust" probably spoke to Chuck as well: there's plenty of drunkenness, drug use, rhapsodizing about the writer's life and a wild, tempestuous love affair to be found in this brief, sad novel. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that they weren't too many American writers of the late thirties that you could compare to Fante. For good or ill, the guy was ahead of his time by whole decades. This doesn't mean that "Ask the Dust" is a wholly successful novel. It sometimes plays a bit like a West Coast version of "The Catcher in the Rye" a work that appeals most to male readers of a certain adolescent mien. Furthermore, the novel's narrator, Arturo Bandini, who is clearly based largely on the author himself, is not always a pleasant companion. He's talented, sure, but also he's also overconfident, impulsive, and insecure. He's given to shoring up his self-image with occasional bursts of out-and-out racism and misogyny. Fante's decision to show us his less appealing sides could be considered an act of genuine literary courage, and, fittingly enough, he treats his fictional self with a air of wry deprecation wholly absent from Salinger's work. Fante, and Bandini, too, know at some level that this starving artist thing is bunk, but they're too caught up in it to abandon it entirely. The sense of humor that Bandini shows about the role he's trying very hard to inhabit might be what keeps "Ask the Dust" from devolving into overwrought, if well-written, melodrama.Fante's a better writer than Salinger in a few other ways, too. His descriptions of southern California's dry, inhospitable landscape are raw and forceful, and his affection for it is evident. Camila Lopez, Bandini's adversary cum lover, is unabashedly strong and sexual, though the poor kid can't help but see her as somewhat exotic and threatening. Fante's a good enough writer that he uses Bandini's racism to start a conversation about what it means to be a white immigrant in twentieth century America. The haughty attitude Bandini displays towards the Mexicans who share the neighborhood of Bunker Hill with him might jar modern sensibilities, but it's also his attempt to assert his own American identity, to sort out who really belongs in Southern California and who doesn't. By the end of the novel, it becomes clear that both Camila and Arturo are true Californians, and that they belong, for better or worse, to each other. They're an unforgettable couple, but for your own sake, dear reader, I hope you find a love different than theirs.
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This novel is a vibrant love song to Los Angeles. Bandini is a caustic but pitiable protagonist not too far removed from a Holden Caulfield or an Ignatius Riley. He writes, he drinks black coffee and piss beer, he hungers in more ways than one. It's easy to see his influence on Bukowski, but the latter's Chinaski character is never so honest, not such a self deprecating screwball swimmig in Catholic guilt as is Fante's Bandini. It is fascinating to watch the relationship between him and Camilla unfold, with its strange blend of bitterness and warmth. Bandini is strung along like a sucker by this "hophead", this "greaser", this "Mayan Princess" after it all. Her destructive addiction to marijuana rings loud with unbelievable thirties hysteria. A junk habit would have been much more realistic. That small quibble aside, this a brief and rewarding novel fat with some gorgeous prose and tragic characters.
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My Jewish Book Group read "Day of the Locust" (Nathanael West was Jewish)and I was looking for more L.A. classics. A review of that book in the L.A. Times mentioned two other Los Angeles books published in 1939, "Ask the Dust" and "The Big Sleep;" I hadn't read either one. So after finishing "Day of the Locust," I moved on to "Ask the Dust." John Fante could not be more different from Nathanael West and the two books are extremely dissimilar. I love them both, but "Ask the Dust" has something special -- a rare and fascinating glimpse into the life of a Latina in 1930's L.A. Camilla Lopez is infinitely more interesting than the male protagonist, Arturo Bandini, and her life is tragic. Arturo Bandini is a published short-story writer and would-be novelist, who has come to the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A. The year is 1933, although Fante never states this fact. It is revealed by Arturo being in Long Beach during a major earthquake; that earthquake occurred on March 10, 1933, at 5:55 p.m. Arturo lives in a cheap hotel, writing all day and wandering dowtown L.A. He meets Camilla in a cafe where she is a waitress. Arturo is immature, rude, and racist. He is attracted to Camilla but like a 10-year-old expresses his attraction through insults. The book actually has very little plot, but it has gorgeous, evocative prose, and it offers a glimpse into a lost world. It makes writing and publishing fiction look oddly easy, but it's autobiographical and told in the first-person; maybe when you are as good as Bandini/Fante that's how it works. I had the impression before I read the book that Camilla and Arturo fall in love, but that's not exactly what happens. They fall into a relationship; they are sexually attracted to one another, but I wouldn't call it love. The book is relatively short and I was somewhat blind-sided by Camilla's rapid descent and the book's shocking, unsettling ending. Arturo has continued to pursue Camilla, wanting a more normal romantic relationship with her, but she is a drug addict and he is delusional about the possibility of a normal life with her. I found myself comparing "Ask the Dust" with "Day of the Locust." The two books share few similarities. However, both books explore the seamier side of life in Depression-era L.A. and feature a cast of characters you wouldn't want to know.
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This book was devastating--the incisive prose haunted me every time I put the book down. Most authors are complete jerks as people and yet we need them-- I think this book is about that.
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