Ashes To Ashes

ask_the_dustAsk the Dust
by John Fante (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

Bukowski was a fan. (He wrote the Preface for the 1979 reprint.) And it is easy to see why. Here is Fante's masterful story about the pursuit of fame and fortune on the fringe in the Land of Plenty. Take into account that it was published in 1939 and it shines all the more remarkably. His first of a four-part serial The Saga of Arturo Bandini. This is a sordid tale of two dysfunctional young lovers trying to make their way in Day (and Night) of the Locust-era Hollywood. An Italian-American living the elusive dream of being discovered as a modern voice in literature. No easy feat when most writers plied their trade in motion pictures. Fiction via autobiography, the young protagonist barely scrapes by until his first novel is finally published.

The reader is drawn into Bandini's daily minutia and internal monologue; his oftentimes painful struggle to maintain his dignity and creative zeal while struggling with his guilt-laden lust. His chase-the-dangling-carrot career is further hampered by his pursuit of an equally emotionally challenged and volatile Mexican waitress who so unnerves him that their nihilistic and sordid behavior is as much an aphrodisiac as their unbridled passion.

"Her arms slipped around my neck. She pulled my face down and sank her teeth into my lower lip. It stung and I fought her until I was free. She sat with one arm over the seat, smiling and watching me enter the hotel. I took out my handkerchief and dabbed my lips. The handkerchief had a spot of blood on it. I walked down the grey hall to my room. As I closed the door all the desire that had not come a while before seized me. It pounded my skull and tingled in my fingers. I threw myself on the bed and tore the pillow with my hands."

And so their love is doomed as soon as it begins, both by the unrealistic expectations of youth and all of the very real insecurities of two crippled spirits. One left to literally wander the desert, while the other's left to wander a deserted soul.

Fante died in 1983, having finally achieved a taste of the second wave of success from reprints of his novels and steady screenplay work, though he lamented that it was hackwork. And Ask the Dust was finally adapted by Paramount and debuted in 2006 starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek as the tragic lovers. Fante's early life very much mirrored his literary persona Bandini with all the trials and tribulations in the pursuit of success. As is often the case, the greatest accolades and recognition for his craft came posthumously. - Dusty Wright

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Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, recently contributed to Chris Butler's The Devil's Glitch project (the longest song in the world), and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!

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