Reader reviews for Ask the Dust

Quite simply one of the best love stories I have ever read! Even though I found the protagonist faulty and ridiculous, it's those sort of traits along with Fante's ability to turn mundane prose into poetry that makes a reader like myself become smitten with the character. I would classify it as "A Love Story for Men" or for women who find themselves more interested in whiskey than in cosmos.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Forget the movie, please, read the book.ASK THE DUST by John Fante ... is of course an underground classic. Why underground? Well, let's just say, like many cult novels, it has a somewhat uneven quality. That it survives at all is due primarily to Charles Bukowski, who named it as his favorite book and greatest inspiration. Bukowski wrote the preface, and it was reprinted by Black Sparrow Press, which also published most of Bukowski's books. Both Bukowski and Black Sparrow Press have passed on, but the book survives. And reading it, after reading Bukowski's work, one can see the parallels. Fante uses an alter ego named Arturo Bandini, while Bukowski uses Henry Chinaski; both are autobiographical writers, both use simple language and similar diction, both favor short chapters and short books overall. The two writers also indulge in depicting seesawing emotional states ranging from utter desolation to manic violence -- even to sentimentality. Both also largely depict down-and-out proletariat writers, and there is the theme of "survival" running through both author's works.Okay, so what did I think about the novel?I liked it. A masterpiece? No. An interesting artifact of the depression era? (The book was first published in 1939.) Absolutely. Very interesting artifact.It's a love story. And a doomed one at that. Of course, that's what I was attracted to. (That and the down-and-out writer theme.)In many ways, Fante is braver than Bukowski in bearing his vulnerabilities, his hypocrisies, his intense up-and-down emotional states, his weaknesses, his masochism. His work is more passionate, and he prone to use more exclamation points than any writer I've ever read (and I thought I was bad, shee-it),I can see Fante's training as a screenwriter in this novel. The character arcs -- changes in Arturo are obvious and dramatic. He goes from being a self-absorbed, self-proclaimed "genius" to being a humiliated, self-sacrificing schmo. (That's right, join the club.)The object of Arturo Bandini's affection is Camilla, a Mexican-American waitress. And right there I was interested too, because, after all, how many novels depict Latinos as main characters? Few, baby. (No, I ain't bitter, just let me say it.)Arturo meets Camilla, she gives him a chance, he chokes, she slams the door, so to speak, in his face. After that, he keeps trying to win her back, but the whole endeavor smacks of masochism, of course. And she too loves someone who won't love her back. So there's misery all around (a la' No Exit).I won't tell you the ending, which is great, actually. Pretty fucking powerful. But Fante must've had the Book of Ecclesiastics in mind. Let me transcribe (straight from the Bible): "Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." That should give you some idea. It's a tragic ending, but memorable and powerful enough to linger in your mind for days and days.Anyway, check this novel out. It's worth your time, if you don't mind some comically outdated views of "the evils of marijuana" (which may remind you of "Reefer Madness.") Some things have to be overlooked, so take the flaws in stride and consider when it was written.I thought for sure the updated film version would trade one narcotic (the weed, Camilla is hopelessly "addicted to" in the book) for another (like heroin). Instead, the film version goes for the cliche of La Boheme. Oh, well. Just avoid the film at all costs.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I was in a library when I suddenly decided that I have to read something. Anything. Instead of searching for classical names, I let my curiosity send me where I wish to go, and I got this book. When I read the first pharagraph, I thought "This is my book" and didn't think twice. Every page turned, I felt myself more and more identified with everything writted there. It's a really good book, without fantasies or absurds... just the life as it is. That's a book you read and feel inside the history. Again, it's really good to read.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
This is a great one from Fante. I also read Wait Until Spring Bandini. Ask the Dust is a strong tale that many of us can relate to.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Fante does Bukowski first and probably does him better. Bandini is a great character that those Melville called philosophers, but we would call profound, thorough or brooding, can easily sympathize with.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
No rating provided
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.
Permalink · Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.