Ask the Dust Revisited

The Guardian’s books blog has a brief appreciation of John Fante‘s 1939 novel, Ask the Dust, a critical book in the Los Angeles Beat scene and a particular influence on Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne and novelist Charles Bukowski. At the time, though, the novel seemed to signal Fante’s lapse into total obscurity:

At the time of Ask the Dust’s release in 1939, Fante appeared to be a writer on the rise. His first novel, Wait Until Spring, was well received; his short stories were appearing in prominent publications such as the American Mercury, and he had a long-distance mentor in HL Mencken, at that time one of America’s most influential men of letters. With all these things going for him, Fante was poised to take his place alongside Steinbeck as one of the era’s most important Californian writers when his incendiary sophomore novel hit the stands. However, Ask the Dust received mixed reviews, sold very poorly, and quickly fell out of print. And that’s how things stayed for the next four decades.

And now? Well, Towne directed a film version of the novel a few years back, and the novel is still in print. But the world that Fante himself inhabited appears to be crumbling—in 2007 a blogger snuck into the apartment where Ask the Dust was written and found a dilapidated wreck.

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